January 17, 2019

A new tale of David versus Goliath–2013 version!

That controversial plant insults Morro Rock.

That plant on that spot insults Morro Rock and Bay. That is one of the most beautiful bays in California.  The plant has been destructive to sea life.

By John Guy LaPlante     With 2 photos.

A couple named Monique and David Nelson and their fellow volunteers out there in central-coast California have been fighting that power plant for years. I’ve been watching this fight all along, and for a special reason. And  I just got an exciting email about it.  Right out of the blue.

It was from  Monique:

“News Alert: Morro Bay Power Plant To Close in 2014!
       “Dear friends —  It’s true!  Yesterday, Dynegy notified Governor Brown of its plan to close the Morro Bay Power Plant in 2014!  We don’t know exactly how it will shake out — there are lots of questions to be answered and details to be worked out. 

      “But let’s take a moment and savor this victory for the estuary!  At the same time, CAPE wants to thank you for all your support over the past 14+ years.  There’s more to do, but we’re getting close….  Monique, Jack, David, Betty, Barbara, Linda & Ahmed (CAPE board of directors)

Finally Monique and David have triumphed!  “Bravo!” I thought. “Terrific!”

Monique and David never gave up fighting the big plant.

Monique and David never gave up the big fight.

So why is this like David versus Goliath? Because it’s about a tiny group of volunteer activists with tiny resources. For years they’ve been battling a huge corporation with deep pockets, Dynergy, which owns the plant. And its previous owners.

I am interested because I happen to know Monique.  And her husband, David.

I’ve been going to  lovely Morro Bay for twenty years.  It’s perched on one of the most beautiful bays and harbors on our Pacific coast.  It’s  surprising how few harbors we have on that coast–far fewer than on this side.  It’s one of the smallest over there but it’s a gem. So it’s precious.

Morro Bay is famous also for Morro Rock. A huge dome rising right up at the entrance to the harbor.  Known to many as the Rock of Gibraltar, the biggest and most remarkable on the whole long Pacific Coast as far north and south as you can go. That rock is really something to behold. Still a sacred place for the native people.

On my first visit  I was shocked by the huge power plant right there on the gorgeous waterfront of Morro Bay. The plant is close by the foot of the the small city’s main street.  There’s an interesting strip there of  restaurants, stores, boutiques, and shops,and amusements. Commercial fishing boats and many pleasure craft add a lot of flavor.

That power plant is so out of place, I thought. It’s a monster down there.

It has three towering smokestacks. They reach way up.You can see them from far away. They belch a vapor or gas of some kind.The plant says it’s harmless, but still it’s disturbing. And the plant detracts so much from the Rock.

To me, its location there was absolutely sacrilegious. So crazy. Sure, the plant was important–it  generated the electricity for the whole area. But  why didn’t they build it farther back, less visible, less offensive? Well, there is an explanation.

The plant was built there on the water’s edge because it needed that water. It sucked it up hour after hour, day after day. It needed it as a coolant for its operations.

Then it pumped that water, which still had a lot of heat in it, back into the harbor.  But in doing so, it was killing zillions of creatures of many kinds.  Tiny ones and big ones, too, but all critical  for the preservation and health of that whole important ecosystem.

Now, here is how Monique and David  got involved.  They hated the power plant, too. Like me, because of its location. At first that was my only concern. But there was more to it than that, they told me. That’s when I heard of the terrible impact the plant had on the one-time abundant sea life and on the harbor and bay.

Monique and David wondered what could be done about it. They met others who felt the same way. That was the start of CAPE.  It stands for the Coastal Alliance on Cape Expansion. Monique and David were on the Board of Directors from the first day, even before CAPE got incorporated.

They had good ideas and the beginning of a strategy and lots of energy and they were determined. But no money to speak of. But they plunged right in.

They were doing this on the side, of course.  After work. They had plenty of personal  responsibilities, such as earning a living. Still they committed themselves to the fight. They quickly became leaders in CAPE.  Monique has been president for five years and David has been the treasurer.

An interesting thing about CAPE is that it’s only the seven directors who are members. Talk about tiny! But they’ve developed strong supporters though never more  than two or three hundred.  So, they’re not a huge  army.

Now here are a few words about that couple.  They are not native Californians.  David grew up in Pennsylvania and after serving in the Navy moved to California to escape from ice and snow.  He got interested in antiques and objects d’art, and particularly antique silver, and it has become a passion.

Monique grew up in Massachusetts and went to college and law school there.  She passed the Massachusetts bar on the first try–quite a few do not.

She met David when he came on a visit and before long she flew to California to join him.  She took the California bar examination and passed it, also on the first try.They married soon afterward. It’s obvious they’re still  in love. She has been part of a local practice most of these years.

All this time they and their associates in CAPE have been battling the mighty power plant.   Dynergy is just the latest owner. It owns a number of plants.

They have fought the plant in many ways on several levels. Holding information sessions for the public. Publicizing the great damage the plant is wreaking. Speaking in protest at city council meetings and state agency hearings at the state capitol in Sacramento.  Writing letters. Finding scientists and other experts and, despite CAPE’s lean treasury, enticing them to help them by conducting studies to measure the  damage being caused, and advising them on what to do about it.

It has been one long battle all this time. Some directors dropped out, of course.  It’s understandable.  Others came on board.  Monique and David and two or three others have been steadfast in keeping up the fight all these years.

They have had their  moments of discouragement.  Monique thought of quitting three years ago but then had a change of heart.  David had the same thought, but only briefly. Now and then both were sustained by bits of good news.  They felt they were making progress but still had a long way to go. Imagine their surprise and elation when Dynergy just up and announced it was shutting the plant. Mine, too. In fact, I was astonished.

Monique told me, “The news was stunning! I found out in a routine call to a state official in Sacramento.  I rushed to call David and he jumped with joy, too.

“But you know, our work is not  over.  It’s marvelous that the damage to the bay will end. We believe aquatic life will thrive again. But there is still a lot to be decided.  One big question is, sure, the plant is going out of business, but what’s going to happen to that ugly building and the smokestacks? That can’t be allowed to stay there.”

To me, this fight and this victory have had the makings of a great movie or a great book.  It is doubtful that will happen. Unimportant to them.

I have found all this so impressive because it has been been a heroic story. One of determination and stamina and smart planning and unrelenting effort.  Not to make headlines or for personal gain.  Entirely for the public good. And with all the odds stacked against its success. Like David’s slaying of great big Goliath!

And I’ve had a special reason to be interested.  Monique is my daughter and David is my son-in-law.



  1. Troy Watkins says:

    Congratulations to CAPE, and especially to Monique and David … truly a testament to their remarkable dedication and unwavering perseverance. And thank you, John, for sharing this story. You should be very proud as well.

  2. Joan Perrone says:

    What a lesson in perseverance! I applaud them for their courage and determination. I, too, wonder what will happen to the building…it will be very expensive to dismantle.

    What a coincidence that we released our blogs almost simultaneously!!!!

    Have you left for your next trek yet?


  3. We need their process to get the Pilgrim Plant in Plymouth MA CLOSED

  4. Andrew Katsanis says:

    Three cheers and a big hug for Monique and David. We drove by Morro Bay back in 1948 and remember how beautiful it was. Hope you can remove the ugly plant and restore the place to its original beauty.

  5. Nancy Simonds says:

    Hey there, John!

    As you may recall, I lived in Morro Bay for three years back in the 50s. It was so beautiful then – very few homes and long, white beaches. I used to go crabbing on the Rock. Congrats to Monique and David!!! I’m sure you’re bursting with pride.

    I’m so sorry I missed you while you were in Deep River. Unfortunately, I was undergoing some outpatient surgery. I’m okay now but it’s been a rather tough month. I’m one of the lucky ones, though and feel so blessed for good friends, my home and so much more. We all experience unhappy chapters so the best thing to do is try not to worry, keep your sense of humor and keep moving forward!

    I wish you a continued, safe journey and hope you have a blessed Thanksgiving with those you love and who love you!!!

    Be well –
    ~ Nancy

  6. That’s great and a big victory for David and Monique.
    However, closing the plant (btw the plant was operating not at full speed since many years already) means only there was built another plant, bigger and destroying another ecosystems, to feed the demand of growing population.
    US uses the most electric power in the world. As one of our off grid friends said recently: to save what is still to save on this planet each person has to step back.
    We are still not ready to give up, we all have high expectations to be fed by grid.

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