While the Morro Bay City Council isn’t opposed to the idea of an offshore facility that would use wave energy to generate electricity, it’s adamantly opposed to the two test sites identified by Dynegy in a federal application for research of a potential commercial operation.
Dynegy, the Houston-based company that owns the retired Morro Bay Power Plant site, intends to spend about $500,000 to test equipment and study impacts of a potential wave park at two offshore locations.
One proposed testing zone is due west of the Morro Bay Harbor, and the other is off the coast north of Cayucos in what council members say is a prime fishing area within 3 miles of shore.
“This doesn’t close the door on wave energy for us,” Councilwoman Christine Johnson said. “But I don’t think they could have picked worse sites. One is at the mouth of our harbor where boats come in, and the other is in prime fishing grounds.”
Council members drafted a letter at their Tuesday meeting, which they plan to submit to the energy commission, saying Dynegy’s test sites present problems with “access to fisheries, safe navigation and impact on marine mammals and other marine species.”
Morro Bay Mayor Jamie Irons said the council would be open to discussing relocation of the test sites.
“I don’t think anyone on the council is opposed to wave energy, but under these conditions, we’re not supportive,” Irons said. “Dynegy needs to come back to the city and have a dialogue and then work it out.”
Dynegy met with City Council members and officials, as well as the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization, this year.
But the company hasn’t held a separate public forum leading up to its application. Now the council recommends a public forum as well.
“The public wants to see reuse of the power plant site, but Dynegy hasn’t had any public conversation,” Johnson said. “It’s hard for the average person to understand this because the company has not engaged them.”
The testing would entail use of wave-energy converters in the ocean waters west of the Morro Bay Harbor at a location named after Estero Bay and at another spot north of Cayucos called Point Estero.
A full-scale project would need additional permits from multiple agencies.
The offshore Estero Bay site stretches 1 nautical mile wide and 2.5 nautical miles long. The Point Estero zone spans 1.5 nautical miles wide and 4 nautical miles long. Both locations are within the 3-mile state boundary line.
The wave-energy converting devices, which are described as “vessels,” would float on the water while being moored to the ocean floor, requiring depths of at least 100 feet. The specific size of the vessels isn’t included in the application.
The energy would be transported through transmission lines from the vessels to the switchyard at the former Morro Bay Power Plant site.
Dynegy’s spokeswoman said Wednesday that the goal of the testing phase is to develop plans for a commercial-scale facility, keeping stakeholder concerns in mind.
“The purpose of the preliminary permits, if granted, is literally to test the waters at the respective sites,” said Dynegy spokeswoman Katy Sullivan in an email. “We will be looking at things like wave quality and stakeholder preferences during the preliminary permit phase to develop a project proposal for a commercial-scale facility, which will require another round of permitting and will be another opportunity for the public to weigh in on the project.”
But the Morro Bay Commercial Fishermen’s Organization said its recommendations made during an initial meeting with Dynegy and its consultant, GWave, were ignored. The group recommended locating the wave park more than 5 miles offshore in 600 feet of water.
Tom Hafer, president of the local fishermen’s organization, wrote in a public comment letter to the energy commission that Dynegy “had not taken the fishermen’s input at all.”
The council expressed its support for the local fishing industry as a priority over the potential for wave energy in the proposed zones.
“Commercial and recreational fisheries have played significant roles in the development of Morro Bay and continue to remain vital economic and social contributors to our community,” the council wrote. “Both proposed locations would significantly disrupt commercial and recreational fishing.”
The council went on to state its concerns about impacts to marine life, including whales, sea lions, harbor seals and dolphins.
“In addition, the introduction of man-made noise into the environment may cause disruption in marine mammal communication, migration and navigation,” council members wrote.
The project application cites an intent to assess impacts, including potential effects of electromagnetic radiation on marine organisms, noise and public safety.
“We anticipate holding additional stakeholder meetings throughout the development process to share findings from the studies conducted under the preliminary permit, if granted,” Sullivan said. “Dynegy looks forward to engaging the public in these discussions to ensure that we have the best possible project to meet the economic and electrical needs of Morro Bay and California, while protecting public safety and the environment.”
Dynegy said the potential public benefits of a wave park include using existing power lines at the former Morro Bay Power Plant site, tax revenues for the city and jobs.
The Surfrider Foundation filed a motion to intervene, which could grant them formal input in the energy commission’s approval process.
“We just want to make sure all important issues are analyzed in the proceeding,” said Angela Howe, legal director for the foundation.