A bill that would extend the life of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant in San Luis Obispo County past the original 2025 closure date was passed by the California Legislature August 31st, the final day of the 2022 legislative session.
Senate Bill 846, authored by Senator Bill Dodd (D-Napa), would invalidate the 2018 California Public Utilities Commission ruling that would have Diablo Canyon shut down between 2024 and 2025. New dates, if approved of by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Agency, would be added in instead. Up to $1.4 billion would then be allocated to the Diablo Canyon Extension Fund to keep the plant running, with the overall goal of helping California reach the 2045 goal of having 100% green and carbon-free energy in the state.
Under SB 846, infrastructure for the plant, including an independent safety committee, would also be put into place to both extend the life of the plant, as well as to oversee safety and the the closure of the plant on the new date.
“It says to the rest of the country, to other climate leaders or deniers or whoever they are, that California is insistent on hitting our clean energy goals, but at the same time not doing something foolish that will increase our reliance on dirty fuels and more costly fuel from other sources,” said Senator Dodd on Wednesday.
Ever since Pacific Gas and Electric announced in 2016 that it would close Diablo Canyon in 2025 – to be replaced by newer zero carbon resources and reduced traditional electricity energy usage – many have called for an extension of the plants life due to the critical energy role it plays in California.
In addition to being clean energy, Diablo Canyon currently powers 9% of the state, amounts to about 15% of all clean energy produced in the state, and would be a huge loss as California slowly transitions to being 100% renewable energy powered by 2045. While prior bills have failed in the past to extend the life of the plant, including AB 2898 in 2020, many state and federal officials have been pulling for California to keep the plant going. A November 2021 Stanford/MIT study that found that keeping the plant open until 2035 would save billions and keep California on track to meet its emissions goals had the rare unifying effect in California of bringing many Democrats and Republicans together to keep the plant open. This has included California Republican leaders, notable Democrats such as Senator Dianne Feinstein, and Biden cabinet officials such as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. Blackout and brownout worries due to the energy transition have also won many lawmakers over as well.
The push also affected Governor Newsom, who began seriously considering keeping the plant open for another 5-10 years in April. With energy and environmental concerns still at the forefront, and the state not wanting to leave a major gap in energy production open while the state strives to meet clean energy goals, Newsom backed the framework of SB 846. Specifically, Newsom proposed last month that PG&E would receive a $1.4 billion from the state to cover operations and relicensing costs, as well as possible U.S. Department of Energy grants, with the California Public Utilities Commission setting a new closure date of October 31, 2029 for one unit, and a date between October 31, 2030 and October 31, 2035 for the other.
SB 846 and the Diablo Canyon extension
“The Governor supports keeping all options on the table as we build out our plan to ensure reliable energy this summer and beyond,” added the Governor’s office last month. “This includes considering a limited term extension of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP), which continues to be an important resource as we transition away from fossil fuel generation to greater amounts of clean energy, with the goal of achieving 100 percent clean electric retail sales by 2045.”
All this led to SB 846. Reworked earlier this year, the bill quickly won approval with the window closing to save the plant in time. While some opposition remained on Wednesday, mostly by environmental groups concerned about safety at the plant and consumer advocates who said that rates would go up as a result of keeping the plant open, the need for the plant swayed lawmakers, with it passing in the Senate 31-1 on Wednesday and in the Assembly 69-3 during a vote in the early hours of Thursday. Many lawmakers specifically noted that this had little to do with being in favor of the plant and more to do with having enough electricity in the state for the foreseeable future.
“If we don’t do this, we’re going to have to explain to our constituents why our foolish decisions have created circumstances in which they are compelled to live in a state in which they can’t use their air conditioner,” noted Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno).
Others noted other important aspects of the bill passage.
“This is something California needs for multiple reasons, and state legislators did the right thing,” explained Sal Braith, a nuclear engineer who has worked at multiple nuclear plants in the U.S., to the Globe on Thursday. “Prior laws really screwed California out of options. They want to be completely carbon free in twenty-odd years, are removing oil and gas and coal plants, and not building enough green plants to replace it. Plus, the power situation really strains during heat and wildfire events, both of which are becoming more common. Getting rid of the plant that produces a tenth of the power in the state would have been energy suicide. The right thing happened today.”
SB 846 is to be decided on by Governor Newsom soon, with all indications showing that he is very likely to sign it into law.
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