During a meeting with the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board on Thursday, Governor Gavin Newsom indicated that he may reverse course on the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power in 2025, and may keep it open until the 2030’s as California transitions to more greener energies.
For the last decade, Diablo Canyon has stood alone as the only operating nuclear power plant in California due to environmental and nuclear safety regulatory concerns. Throughout the 1990’s, 2000’s and early 2010’s, multiple nuclear plants were closed across California, with the second last, San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, closing in the early 2010’s.
Diablo Canyon remained a target for opponents until 2016, when Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) announced that they would not be renewing licenses on their reactors, setting them up to stop completely by 2025.
However, since that announcement, renewable, green energy demand in California has grown exponentially under multiple bills and gubernatorial executive orders, along with a backlash against oil and coal plants, along with legislation and executive orders for statewide carbon-free goals by 2045. As Diablo Canyon currently accounts for 9% of all power generated in California, many have argued that its closure would also have many negative effects, including leading to an energy gap as fossil fuel plants continue to close and green energy plants currently are not providing the amounts needed in clean replacement energy and a low, but growing, number of energy storage batteries in the state.
In the last several years, bills in the state legislature have been introduced to try and save the plant, studies have proven that the state would save billions and help meet clean energy goals with the plant in place, and even members of the Biden Administration, including Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm, have been in favor of keeping the plant open.
With such a pushback in place to avoid an energy crisis, Governor Gavin Newsom appears to have begun shifting his thinking back to keeping Diablo Canyon open past 2025.
Specifically, Governor Newsom said that he would be pursuing $6 billion from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law designed to keep struggling nuclear power plants open.
A possible life extension for Diablo Canyon
“The requirement is by May 19 to submit an application, or you miss the opportunity to draw down any federal funds if you want to extend the life of that plant,” Governor Newsom said on Thursday. “We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option.”
Despite Newsom now being receptive to keeping the plant open, his office clarified that while Newsom was in favor of extending the life of the plant, he is still for an ultimate closure of the plant in the future.
“In the long term, the Governor continues to support the closure of Diablo Canyon as we transition to clean energy while ensuring the reliability of our energy grid,” explained Governor’s office spokeswoman Erin Mellon.
Despite Newsom now stepping closer with the Biden Administration, energy advocates, Republicans, and others in favor of keeping the plant open, the path to keep Diablo Canyon open past 2025 is still difficult.
The first major block would be to have PG&E on board, which even Newsom noted the difficulty of on Thursday.
“Based on the conversations we’ve been having with PG&E, it’s not their happy place,” added Newsom.
PG&E remained non-committed Friday, saying in a statement that they are keeping their options open, even with a potential boost of federal funds.
“The people of PG&E are proud of the role that Diablo Canyon Power Plant plays in our state.” said the company on Friday. “We are always open to considering all options to ensure continued safe, reliable, and clean energy delivery to our customers.”
In addition to PG&E wanting to keep the plant open, a renewed application with the Nuclear Regulatory Committee as well as the support of local and state leaders to not face potential bills or lawsuits to keep the closure on track could be needed.
“Newsom does not want to piss off any allies right now in the party. He’s pretty safe as Governor for another term, but if he keeps the plant open against their wishes, it could be yet another blemish on his political record if he looks for a run to be Senator or even higher later in the decade,” noted Ryan Cahill, a pollster from San Luis Obispo County, where Diablo Canyon is located.
“This is why you’re not hearing a definite yes or no from him. He wants to keep that support, but he also wants the state to meet clean energy goals and continue to be powered through a second term. This is a problem he mostly put on himself that has big consequences for Californians.”
A more clear decision on whether or not Diablo Canyon is to stay open beyond 2025 is expected in the coming months.
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