The United States Department of Energy announced on Monday that $1.1 billion would be awarded to fund the short-term extension of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County well into the next decade.
The debate over extending the life of the Diablo Canyon Plant has been ongoing since 2018, when concerns over earthquakes, nuclear waste pollution, and other factors convinced the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to close the plant by 2025. Proponents of the plant quickly moved to try and extend the life of the plant, with concerns over state energy production quickly bringing more and more support in their favor. Many were attracted to the fact that keeping the plant open for a decade or two more would save the state $21 billion in systems costs, while others, concerned about large gaps in California’s energy production while transitioning into the 100% renewable energy power by 2045 goal, signaled support as a power source to help bridge the gap. The fact that Diablo Canyon provides 9% of California’s total energy production, and is a clean source of energy, has also convinced many people of keeping the plant open.
While several bills in the 2010’s and early 2020’s failed to keep the plant open, one, SB 846, was finally passed by both houses in the state legislature earlier this year. At the same time, Governor Gavin Newsom put out a proposal to keep the plant running for another 5-10 years, outlining how state and federal support would be needed. Despite signing the bill into law in September, over $1 billion in funding was still needed to make the extension feasible, as well as final approvals from multiple state and federal agencies, such as approval of a new license by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
While some steps have been taken, a giant step was made Monday with the Department of Energy when they awarded the $1.1 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program grant into keeping the plant open.
“This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation’s largest source of clean electricity,” said U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm, who has been a proponent of keeping Diablo Canyon open, in a statement on Monday.
A DOE grant of $1.1 billion
Governor Newsom also stated on Monday that “Amid intensifying climate impacts in the West and across the country, California is focused on meeting our bold climate and clean energy goals while tackling the challenges of extreme weather that puts lives at risk and strains our grid. This investment creates a path forward for a limited-term extension of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant to support reliability statewide and provide an onramp for more clean energy projects to come online.
“I thank the Biden-Harris Administration for this critical support and the California Legislature for moving quickly to make this award possible. I look forward to our continued work together to build a clean, affordable and reliable energy future for our state.”
Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who until recently had opposed the plant’s extension, also added in a statement that “I welcome the news that the Department of Energy has granted $1.1 billion to help keep the Diablo Canyon Power Plant open an additional five years.”
“This short-term extension is necessary if California is going to meet its ambitious clean-energy goals while continuing to deliver reliable power. This is especially critical as California’s electric grid has faced increasing challenges from climate-fueled extreme weather events. Shuttering the plant would remove 18,000 gigawatt-hours from the electric grid, nearly 10 percent of California’s electricity generation, energy that would very likely be replaced by dirty energy sources.”
“Instead, this federal investment will allow Diablo Canyon to continue producing carbon-free energy until 2030, giving the state the time it needs to bring additional renewable energy sources online and eventually replace the energy produced by the nuclear plant.”
Despite this, experts noted to the Globe on Monday that it is still not a done deal.
“Over a billion in funding by the DOE is going to go a long way,” Sal Braith, a nuclear engineer who has worked at multiple nuclear plants in the U.S., told the Globe on Monday. “But there are still some hard approvals ahead. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission does not kid around when it comes to this.
“Still, it is looking promising. A lot of people couldn’t imagine a few years ago we’d be this close to extending Diablo Canyon like this.”
Final federal approvals are expected to be decided on soon.
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