From 1998 to 2002, I had the opportunity of a lifetime. I was offered a transfer from North Carolina to the California coast to assume a new communications role at Moss Landing and Morro Bay power plants purchased at auction by Duke Energy from PG&E.
I had never been to California before, and when I looked on a map at where the two major plants were located (in Monterey and Morro Bay), I immediately called my wife. There was little discussion; the decision was obvious — we had to go. Neither of us had been to California before, much less with an offer to move to the state’s Central Coast. I soon found out why it is considered one of the most beautiful places on Earth.
We were in our late 30s with a small daughter who was about to start school. We moved into a wonderful house in a quiet neighborhood in San Luis Obispo, and I commuted daily to Morro Bay down Highway 1. I called it “Pleasantville” because it seemed perfect in almost every way.
In the fall of 1998, my job evolved into working to gain support for multibillion-dollar modernization projects we announced at both Moss Landing and Morro Bay. The benefits of the projects for the local community, as well as the state, seemed obvious.
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The sites would be cleared of old power plants and related equipment, emissions and water use would be reduced significantly, power production would increase, and hundreds of millions of dollars would be pumped into the local and state economy. This was all announced two years before the state’s energy crisis, before power prices spiked to record levels, blackouts were commonplace, and Gov. Gray Davis ended up being removed from office. Little did I know what was in store.
The project at Moss Landing was successful. When it was completed in 2002, it contributed more than 30 percent of all the new power generation in the state, playing a major role in fixing the state’s energy crisis.
The $1.1 billion Morro Bay project was another story. The permitting process was extremely tough, and our work to gain support from the community involved everything from advertisements to weekly open houses and neighborhood socials to educate the local residents and answer questions. The project was later the focus of two Morro Bay ballot initiatives — a first for any California power plant proposal — that eventually showed the project enjoyed strong support.
I write this letter more than a decade later not to rehash the pros or cons of the Morro Bay Power Plant project, but to point out that some of my fondest memories were in Morro Bay and San Luis Obispo and being associated with the employees at the Morro Bay Power Plant.
The communities are full of wonderful people who care deeply about their quality of life, and they are passionate about anything that could bring changes to the fabric of their community. The power plant’s staff, many of whom still work there for Dynegy, which owns the facility today, are some of the most dedicated, honest and hardworking people I have ever worked with. They consistently performed their jobs with excellence, even in very tough circumstances.
Perhaps the Morro Bay Power Plant project was not a good idea. Perhaps it was and Morro Bay missed a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.
Those are no longer the questions.
What is clear is the gratitude we owe to the employees who were the lifeblood of the Morro Bay Power Plant, which is being retired after 60 years of service. These men and women care deeply about Morro Bay, the communities where they live throughout San Luis Obispo County and generating electricity for the state’s homes and businesses as efficiently as possible. They have performed admirably in very tough circumstances and have always worked tirelessly to keep the plant running and power flowing to Californians.
Tom Williams is director of corporate media relations and executive support for Duke Energy in Charlotte, N.C.