Extending Diablo’s Life is NOT a Green Energy Move!
Rumors are swirling around Sacramento and among those opposed to extending the operation of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant beyond the expiration of its current operating license in 2025: Governor Newsom is planning to jam a last-minute bill through the state Legislature by the end of August to try to keep Diablo Canyon operating. What the bill will actually do or say is anyone’s guess at this stage.
Newsom’s desire to disrupt the plan to decommission Diablo is irrational.
He seems to be ignoring the various laws, regulatory processes, decisions, and comprehensive planning that have been going on for years. The suite of programs and plans has proved spectacularly successful in making electricity the only sector in California to reduce greenhouse gases in half in the past decade. Keeping Diablo running past 2025 actually disrupts this orderly progress that has been set in motion under the assumption that Diablo is closing.
Rather than focusing on keeping Diablo operating past 2025, in Newsom’s attempt to safeguard his political ambitions, he should be embracing what other Governors before him have laid forth.
The history of California legislation shows clearly that the State is on track to achieve zero emissions by 2045:
- In 2002, Governor Davis signed a bill requiring 20% of retail sellers of energy to be generated from renewable sources by 2017.
- In 2006, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a bill accelerating the 20% target from 2017 to 2010.
- In 2009, Governor Schwarzenegger signed an executive order to procure 33% of electricity from renewables by 2020.
- In 2011, SB 2 (1X) codified this achievement of the 33% Renewable Portfolio Standard Program requirement by 2020, which Governor Brown signed into law. He went further to include both publicly and municipality-owned utilities.
- In 2015, Brown signed SB 350, mandating that 50% of retail sales be from renewables by 2030. It also required the state regulators to set greenhouse gas reduction targets for retail sellers of electricity. It established new Integrated Resource Plans (IRPs) to ensure a comprehensive suite of policy goals are all met. It required electricity providers to spell out how they will meet those goals, including minimizing costs, ensuring grid reliability, and minimizing air pollution.
- In 2018, Brown signed SB 100, which increased the RPS to 60% by 2030. This bill also set a goal to have 100% renewable energy and zero carbon by 2045.
Current Status of Renewables
The brief August 2020 power outages were primarily caused by a malfunction in CAISO’s market operation, which failed to make existing power supplies available when most needed. If the CPUC had followed its own IRPs and brought online the 4,000 megawatts of clean energy reliability resources – 2,200 MW of demand response and 1,800 MW of battery storage — the power outage would have been avoided. Instead, there was only about 130 MW of battery storage and 800 MW of demand response available.
The graph below illustrates California’s zero-carbon electricity reliability capacity according to the CPUC’s 2019-2020 Electric Resource Portfolios to Inform Integrated Resource Plans and Transmission Planning (p.42-43)
Since 2020, CPUC is making significant progress on its procurement reliability resources. According to the 2021 CPUC’s California Renewables Standard Annual Report, “retail sellers either met or exceeded the 33 percent interim RPS target and almost all reported meeting their 2017–2020 compliance period requirements.” Further, the report stated that “The large Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) – (Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E), Southern California Edison Company (SCE), and San Diego Gas & Electric Company (SDG&E)) – and Small and Multi-Jurisdictional Utilities (SMJUs) have executed renewable electricity contracts necessary to exceed the annual 2020 RPS target of 33 percent.”
What is also encouraging, according to this report, is that the three large IOUs are currently forecasted to continue surpassing RPS requirements and have excess procurement for the next seven years.
The comparison between the amount of energy generated by Diablo to that of renewables demonstrates the absurdity of Newsom’s argument to extend the life of Diablo. According to the California Energy Commission’s 2021 Total System Electric Generation, Diablo produces 16,477 Gigawatt hours (GWh) of energy. When divided by 277,764 GWh, the total California mix of energy – excluding rooftop solar – Diablo contributed 5.9% of California’s energy generation in 2021. When rooftop solar is added in – amounting to 21,458 GWh in 2021 – Diablo’s contribution to the total energy mix drops to 5.5%.
It is worth noting that in 2019, rooftop solar had already replaced the energy of one Diablo Canyon when it generated 16,477 GWh. New solar will replace additional Diablo Canyons worth of energy every seven years, according to the California Energy Demand Forecast, 2021-2035 Baseline Forecast – Mid Demand Case (form 1.2).
Newsom’s false claim that California’s renewables will never be enough without Diablo has duped the Department of Energy, allowing California to bid for some of the $6 billion subsidy, and the California legislature when it passed AB 205, providing $2.2 billion to rescue Diablo and several fossil fuel plants from closing.
After signing AB 205, Newsom declared that this “Strategic Reliability Reserve” will only be used in extreme events such as heatwaves and only as a last resort. But as Ralph Cavanagh, co-director of the energy program at Natural Resources Defense Council, noted, “You can’t keep a nuclear plant on standby for emergency conditions…Diablo Canyon is designed to run 24 hours a day, with a specialized workforce.”
If the Governor and Legislature are so worried about reliability, they should redirect the $2.2 billion in the energy fund (some of which is slated to keep Diablo running) toward helping the CPUC catch up with its planning targets. Any other use of the money for fossil fuel plants or Diablo would be wasting billions of dollars on energy supplies that are inconsistent with our clean energy efforts.