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Noises coming from proposed energy facility site frustrate neighbors 

Just off Highway 1, halfway between San Luis Obispo and Morro Bay, Linda Mahnken lives on Canet Road. Nestled near the base of Hollister Peak, Mahnken raises farm animals on her property.

"We had lambs on Jan. 5 and I had to spend the night out in the barn [with them], and it's usually nice and quiet and peaceful," Mahnken said. "But there was this drilling noise all night long."

A few weeks later, Mahnken said, she got a notice in the mail from the California Energy Commission (CEC) about the Pecho Energy Storage Center, a proposed energy storage facility that, if approved, will sit adjacent to her and her neighbors' properties.

click to enlarge BACKYARD DRILLING If approved, the Pecho Energy Storage Center will be built near some property owners who are already frustrated with pre-construction drilling noises. - PHOTO COURTESY OF LINDA MAHNKEN
  • Photo Courtesy Of Linda Mahnken
  • BACKYARD DRILLING If approved, the Pecho Energy Storage Center will be built near some property owners who are already frustrated with pre-construction drilling noises.

Hydrostor, the company planning to build the energy storage center, submitted an application for certification to the CEC, the first step in a lengthy process toward approval. According to the notice, if approved, "the applicant anticipates it would begin the 54-month construction of [Pecho] in the second quarter of 2023."

Mahnken said she can already hear loud noises and see the bright lights a few hundred yards from her property.

"We were just super surprised, because all of a sudden they were working," Mahnken said. "We heard they were thinking of building a plant; it was like the rumor in the neighborhood. But they're already drilling."

Hydrostor Executive Curt Hildebrand said the company is conducting an exploratory geotechnical evaluation program to determine whether the land is appropriate for future construction.

"Once we complete the program, the rigs will be demobilized off the site. We will leave no traces of our borehole program on the site whatsoever," Hildebrand said. "We will, in parallel, continue with our permitting efforts through the CEC and SLO County and other regulatory agencies."

Hildebrand said the exploratory drilling is expected to last another two months.

"We're aware that some issues have been raised and we're looking to address those, but again, this is a temporary program and it's not associated with any project construction," he said.

SLO County 2nd District Supervisor Bruce Gibson, whose district includes the spot where Hydrostor plans to build the facility, said "we've checked it out and the appropriate permits have been issued to drill these test wells." However, he doesn't support the project in this location.

"That's agricultural land and a very scenic area with specific protections," Gibson said. "I'm opposed to changing that zoning."

The proposed 80-acre facility would sit on a 300-acre parcel. It would use compressed air energy technology to store excess energy created during off-peak hours, which can be used when needed, and it could store 20 percent of the energy that the grid will lose when Diablo Canyon closes, according to Hydrostor.

"The idea is an interesting one; the technology is certainly innovative," Gibson said. "But we've gone through a lot of planning for our land use, and that is prime ag land. I think that zoning is appropriate as it is right now." Δ

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