State lawmakers recently approved SB 846, which keeps Diablo Canyon Power Plant open until 2030
By Blake Ashley Frino-Gerl
SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — The fate of Diablo Canyon Power Plant seems slightly puzzling at this point. Up until recently, it was assumed the nuclear power plant would be closing around 2025. Overseen and monitored by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC), the plant is licensed to operate Unit 1 into 2024 and Unit 2 into 2025. However, it is likely that it will continue to operate beyond then.
Amidst annual California heat waves and knowing that the continuous use of electricity surges during times of excessive heat, state lawmakers recently approved SB 846, which keeps Diablo Canyon Power Plant open until 2030 and gives operator PG&E a $1.4 billion loan to do so.
Once the bill was approved, the next day, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed it into law. The governor wants to extend the life of the plant, and that notion has received widespread opposition from legislators. In contrast, the measure, authored by Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham of San Luis Obispo and Senator Bill Dodd of Napa, gained overwhelming support in the Assembly in a 67-3 vote.
In 2016, PG&E partnered with labor and environmental organizations on a joint proposal agreement to retire Diablo Canyon Power Plant at the end of its current Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses.
“This proposal was brought about as a result of state policies that have focused on renewables and energy efficiency, coupled with lower PG&E customer electricity demand,” according to PG&E Sr. Marketing & Communications Manager Suzanne Hosn.
Then in 2018, the plan to retire the power plant was approved by the California Public Utilities Commission, the state legislature, and Gov. Jerry Brown.
After four years, the decision to close the power plant has switched but has been met with concerns and also praise. Lawmakers adamant about protecting climate change and using renewable energy are switching gears because they see no immediate fix to the situation and find keeping Diablo Canyon Power Plant in service is the necessary remedy while further research in renewable energy is completed.
For instance, in a statement, Senator Dianne Feinstein says that “keeping Diablo Canyon open and producing carbon-free energy is more important” (Feinstein.Senate.gov).
She adds, “California has some of the most ambitious clean-energy goals in the world, including decreasing carbon emissions to 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 and achieving 100 percent clean electricity by 2045.”
These goals will require energy alternatives to provide power continuously in addition to solar and wind. So the situation now, with no relief in the near future, deems to be a significant reason as to why it was decided to keep it open.
Feinstein adds that “closing Diablo Canyon would remove 18,000 gigawatt-hours from the grid, nearly 10 percent of the state’s electricity generation. This is an extraordinary amount of power for a grid facing reliability concerns amid heat waves and wildfires.”
However, energy experts and environmental groups have since expressed strong opposition in keeping the plant working. Their concerns are regarding nuclear waste and safety issues due to its proximity to seismic fault lines. In addition, they also say it could delay necessary investments in renewable energy.
Yet, many are appeased with the power plant not retiring so soon. According to nonprofit news organization Cal Matters, Newsom says, “Climate change is causing unprecedented stress on California’s energy system, and I appreciate the Legislature’s action to maintain energy reliability as the State accelerates the transition to clean energy” (CalMatters.org).
In addition, he concludes, in agreement with Feinstein, that Diablo Canyon Power Plant is a “statewide reliability asset” beyond its complete initial retirement of 2025.
The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, supported Newsom’s plea for the Diablo Canyon extension.
“We are proud of the role Diablo Canyon plays in providing safe, reliable, low-cost and carbon-free energy to our customers and Californians,” according to Hosn.
She adds that they will do “their part to help the state achieve its energy reliability and decarbonization goals.”
PG&E has to obtain the necessary U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) licenses, as well as other required state regulatory approvals, to keep the power plant working in an efficient manner.
While the reality seems to be that the power plant will stay open for at least eight more years, it is extremely clear that not all lawmakers and citizens are on the same side. Some people want it closed and for the state to focus on obtaining renewable energy, while many don’t see that as a possibility at this time. It is one of those arguments to agree to disagree on and hope that, in the end, it all works out for the benefit of our state and the environment.