What is the status of Vistra’s application for approval of the BESS?
A: The application is at an early stage of the review process. On June 3, 2022, the City of Morro Bay issued a Notice of Preparation to inform the public it is preparing an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) pursuant to the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). In the coming months, the City is expected to circulate a draft EIR for a minimum 45-day public review and comment period. No decision can be made on the application until the CEQA process is complete, which is expected to occur in 2023.
Many opportunities will exist for public participation throughout the CEQA process.
What is the BESS project?
A: The proposed project consists of three components:
- Demolition and removal of the existing power plant building and three emission stacks
- Construction and operation of a 600-megawatt battery energy storage system on approximately 24 acres of the project site known as the former tank farm area
- Adoption of a Master Plan to guide potential development in the future on the old power plant site and surrounding area
You can find more information about the BESS project here: https://www.morro-bay.ca.us/842/Current-Planning-Projects
Why build the BESS in Morro Bay?
A: The retired Morro Bay plant site owned by Vistra is an ideal location. For example, building a battery energy storage system at this location would:
- Revitalize private land historically used for power generation while minimizing potential environmental impacts
- Utilize existing adjacent PG&E infrastructure needed to help California timely meet its energy goals
- Enable potential future development in Morro Bay, unlocking new opportunities that will benefit the community
In addition to the BESS, can portions of the old power plant site be used for other types of development?
A: Yes. In accordance with existing Policy LU-5.4 of Plan Morro Bay and concurrent with the land use review process for the BESS project, the City is developing a proposed a Master Plan for the entire 107-acre power plant site. The City, local community members and the Coastal Commission have long desired that a Master Plan be developed for the surrounding area and consideration of the BESS project furthers that goal. Along with the potential development of the BESS, the purpose of the Master Plan is to guide future development on the site, such as retail, commercial, or open space. However, any such future development will require additional approval from the City, thereby providing additional opportunities for public participation.
What is a Master Plan?
A: A Master Plan sets the vision and policy framework for the development of an area. It informs and guides local decision-makers and the public by establishing design and development parameters for the future physical development of the areas covered by the Master Plan.
As noted, Policy LU-5.4 of Plan Morro Bay requires preparation of a Master Plan once the City receives a development proposal for the Morro Bay power plant site. The Master Plan will establish a comprehensive and holistic approach for future development of the power plant site and surrounding areas.
Is the BESS project safe?
A: Yes. Battery energy storage is a safe and proven technology with California having safely deployed more than 2,500 megawatts of lithium-ion battery storage. For decades, battery storage devices have been safely deployed in a variety of circumstances and products. Vistra’s project will include comprehensive safety systems designed specifically to address fire incidents and other safety concerns.
Some have asked questions about a fire in September involving a battery energy storage system at Moss Landing in Monterey County. Vistra understands the concerns, is listening to your questions and monitoring that event—which did not involve Vistra’s project.
Vistra will share information about the incident as it becomes publicly available, and address questions regarding safety during the CEQA process, including at public workshops. Public safety is Vistra’s top priority.
Are safety measures available to address battery overheating?
A: Yes. Batteries can overheat, which if not properly controlled can lead to thermal runaway. Thermal runaway is a rare internal chemical reaction that releases heat and occurs when the voltage or temperature outside the battery becomes unstable.
Safety measures are available and effective. For example, suppression systems already exist that use water or clean agents to address thermal runaway and stop the spread to other batteries.
Will Vistra’s BESS project include safety systems?
A: Yes. There is no higher priority at Vistra than the safety of the communities we serve, our people, the environment, and our company sites. That commitment to safety will extend through the design, construction, and operation of the Morro Bay BESS.
Among other things, the project will meet or exceed local and state codes and industry standards such as UL 9540 for utility-scale batteries and the National Fire Protection Association codes, including NFPA 855 which establishes fire protection criteria to consider and mitigate fire and life safety risks associated with energy storage installations.
Like all Vistra BESS projects, it will have a multi-level detection system for smoke, gases, heat, and air pressure drop in water lines that can automatically trigger the suppression system using water, a clean agent, or both to extinguish and contain any overheating or fire in a battery module.
More safety information will be provided during the CEQA process.
What happened at the two overheating events at the Vistra Moss Landing Energy Storage Facility?
A: These were operational events involving overheating of the batteries. Vistra took prompt action and there were no physical injuries or impacts to the environment or nearby communities.
The investigation confirmed the batteries were operating normally and not the initial source of smoke or a cause of the incidents. The investigation found that the water-based heat suppression system armed in response to detection of very low levels of smoke in one area of the facility, and, because of failures in a small number of couplings on flexible hoses and pipes, improperly sprayed water on battery racks causing batteries to short and arc.
Vistra promptly implemented several corrective actions to reduce the potential of a similar incident occurring in the future. A summary of the investigation findings and corrective actions can be found here.
The batteries restarted in summer 2022 and were essential to supporting the California grid during the record-setting hot weather and corresponding grid demand in early September 2022.
Did the fire incident at Moss Landing in September 2022 that prompted the temporary closure of Highway 1 involve Vistra?
Are all BESS safety systems the same?
A: No. Consistent with its commitment to safety, Vistra BESS systems have both an overheating detection system and a multiphase suppression system to mitigate and contain an unexpected event.
Did the Morro Bay City Council approve the BESS project when it adopted a memorandum of understanding with Vistra?
A: No. Vistra’s project cannot be considered for approval until the CEQA process is complete, which remains in progress.
In addition to the BESS, what is the plan for the rest of the site, including the emission stacks and retired power plant building?
A: The BESS project contemplates demolition of the stacks and development of a Master Plan. If the BESS project is approved, Vistra anticipates demolition of the stacks and the existing power plant building will follow shortly thereafter. The demolition of those structures would facilitate potential future development, including retail, commercial, and open space. Any future development would require separate approvals from the City, along with a process for public review and comment.