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Coastal Commission stops drilling off Highway 1 

Residents of Canet Road off Highway 1 will no longer be kept up at night by drilling noises, thanks to the California Coastal Commission.

Hydrostor, a Canadian-based energy company, was doing some "exploratory drilling" on a parcel of land near the base of Hollister Peak in preparation for their proposed Pecho Energy Storage Center. The company secured well permits from the SLO County Public Health Department, but the Coastal Commission said that wasn't sufficient.

click to enlarge NOISE DISTURBANCE From her property, Canet Road resident Linda Mahnken could see Hydrostor's drilling activity, which the Coastal Commission has now deemed unpermitted. Mahnken said the noises have since ceased. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LINDA MAHNKEN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Linda Mahnken
  • NOISE DISTURBANCE From her property, Canet Road resident Linda Mahnken could see Hydrostor's drilling activity, which the Coastal Commission has now deemed unpermitted. Mahnken said the noises have since ceased.

"The activity they're conducting out there is an activity that meets the definition of development in the Coastal Act and in the county's Local Coastal Program," Coastal Commission Enforcement Supervisor Pat Veesart told New Times. "It requires a coastal development permit and they don't have one."

Veesart added that Hydrostor isn't drilling wells but creating geological boreholes. On behalf of the Coastal Commission, he wrote a notice of violation letter to Hydrostor on Feb. 24. Veesart said Hydrostor acknowledged receipt of the letter, and neighbors say activity seems to have ceased. Hydrostor did not respond to New Times' request for comment before press time.

"There are a lot of changes in the last few days," nearby resident Linda Mahnken said on Feb. 28. "No drilling, no lights, and they've moved out the mobile office, drilling rig, and most of the equipment. There have been several tanker trucks coming in today. They stay for a short time, seem to empty their loads and then leave. I've seen at least five trucks do this."

After more than a month of drilling interrupting their peaceful livelihood, Mahnken and her neighbors are relieved it's over.

If approved, Hydrostor plans to begin constructing the Pecho Energy Storage Center in 2023. The plant would use compressed air technology to store energy from off-peak hours and then deploy that energy back into the grid, and it could store up to a fifth of what Diablo Canyon Power Plant generates right now, according to the company. But the road to approval will be a long one, Veesart said.

"Approval would come from the California Energy Commission, but there was a process back in the late '70s and '80s in which the Coastal Commission identified sites in the coastal zone that were suitable or unsuitable for power plants," Veesart said.

He said the Coastal Commission found that Chorro Valley—where Hydrostor wants to build the plant—has unique scenic resources that make it unsuitable for a power plant.

"So the Commission said this is not a good site, but apparently there is still a process by which the California Energy Commission could still approve it if the [Coastal] Commission can make certain findings," Veesart said.

One of those findings is the project would need to be in compliance with local land use requirements.

"It's not an approved project pursuant to the county's Local Coastal Program [LCP], so Hydrostor would have to ask the county to amend the LCP," Veesart said. "That LCP amendment would have to be certified by the Coastal Commission."

Until that happens, Veesart said, any drilling happening on the site is an unpermitted activity and must stop immediately.

"There are some high hurdles they're going to have to get over before they can get this approved," Veesart said. Δ

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