Governor Gavin Newsom announced a proposal to keep the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant open until between 2030 and 2035 on Friday, largely to help meet California’s energy needs while the state transitions between fossil fuels and green energy in the next few decades.
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 and would be a huge loss as California slowly transitions to being 100% renewable energy powered by 2045. While Assembly 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 and Biden cabinet officials such as Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm.
“In San Luis Obispo, in Sacramento, in Washington, the effort to keep Diablo Canyon open has been more and more of a force,” explained Sal Braith, a nuclear engineer who has worked at multiple nuclear plants in the U.S., to the Globe on Friday. “The only people really against it are environmentalists who don’t understand that technology has improved greatly since Three Mile Island. It’s a lot of clean energy and meets pretty much all of California’s needs coming up in numerous areas. It’s no wonder so many people are for it.”
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 announced his proposal on Friday.
According to the proposal, 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. The California Public Utilities Commission would then set 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. An exemption would also be given for the plant to continue operating without new environmental analysis.
A new proposal by Governor Newsom to save Diablo Canyon
The proposal would need to be passed as legislation in the state Assembly and Senate, with federal, state, and local regulators needing to approve it before any extension is given.
“The Governor supports keeping all options on the table as we build out our plan to ensure reliable energy this summer and beyond,” said Newsom Communications Director Erin Mellon on Friday. “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.”
Many praised the Governor’s initiative on Friday, with PG&E confirming that they are ready to continue the plant operating well into the 2030’s.
“We are proud of the role that DCPP plays in our state, and we stand ready to support should there be a change in state policy, to help ensure grid reliability for our customers and all Californians at the lowest possible cost,” said PG&E in a statement.
However, environmental groups rallied against the plan on Friday. In a joint Environment California, Friends of the Earth and the Natural Resources Defense Council statement, they called Newsom’s proposal a “costly distraction.”
“The findings used to justify these extraordinary provisions include no citations to published studies by any California regulator or agency recommending a further life extension for Diablo Canyon because there are none,” said the groups. “With Governor Newsom and the legislature working to appropriate climate budget funds and advance ambitious climate legislation in the waning days of the legislative session, this proposal is a dangerous and costly distraction.”
Senator John Laird (D-Carmel) added on Friday “Who pays, and is there fairness in who pays? There have been additional earthquake faults discovered near the plant, and seismic upgrades were never totally completed. Will they address that? We are under a tight timeframe. That begs the question of could they do everything it needs to be extended by 2025?”
However, many experts noted that Diablo Canyon has continued to show it’s longevity and staying above board, dismissing many opposition claims.
“California needs this,” added Braith. “The power plant is in good health and has been chugging along quite well. And even more, safely. They’ve been doing everything asked of them, and then some. There’s no need for people with an agenda in a matter as crucial as this. People need to get off their high horse or off their soapbox and actually work with those in the plant for once to find a solution. And thanks to that we now have a huge backer, the Governor.”
The push to keep Diablo Canyon open is expected to continue growing with the new proposal in place.
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