PG&E has filed with the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to inform the agency that it intends to apply for license renewal for the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant. This moves the ball down the field for five more years of nuclear power clogging transmission lines that could otherwise send renewable resources to homes across the state.
The California Legislature, in the early hours of September 1, passed Senate Bill 846, opening the gateway for Diablo Canyon’s two units scheduled to close in 2024 and 2025 to keep operating until 2030.
PG&E’s horrific track record of causing deadly and destructive wildfires, its poor maintenance record at Diablo, and its failure to meet the CPUC’s “reasonable manager” standard caused 149.2 days of unplanned outages resulting in $178.6 million in replacement power costs. Hopefully, these costs will not be passed on to its customers. But under SB 846, ratepayers are liable for up to $300 million per year in replacement power costs for Diablo Canyon outages even when PG&E fails to meet the reasonable manager standard.
Given PG&E’s record, customers should brace for higher rates if Diablo remains operating through 2030.
In the meantime, PG&E will receive a $1.4 billion gift in the form of a forgivable loan from California’s taxpayers to make the upgrades needed to extend operation.
Ironically, in 2016, PG&E proposed to close the 37-year-old plant at the end of its current operating licenses because it didn’t pencil out compared to cheaper and rapidly expanding energy sources such as wind and solar.
However, Governor Newsom’s fear that renewable sources cannot provide the reliability that California needs to prevent power outages led him to push for an extension on the nuclear plant, reversing the Joint Proposal established in 2016 to close Diablo and then codified into law in 2018 by the California Legislature. Yet, in the most recent 10-day spate of extreme heat in early September 2022, battery storage, demand response, and conservation by citizens from across the state prevented power outages, not Diablo Canyon.
In the last month alone, according to the California Independent System Operator (CAISO), California acquired another 1,000 megawatts of battery storage, pushing the total amount to over 4,300 MW.
There are still supply chain and transmission line availability issues snagging the progress on meeting the goal of the California Public Utilities Commission’s 2021 order for power providers in the state to collectively procure 11.5 GW of new clean energy resources. But the state still has three years before the 2.2 GW Diablo would have been closed. When the CPUC announced the order for the procurement, CPUC Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen said, “This is enough to power about 2.5 million households in the state, and all this will be coming from renewable or zero-emitting resources.”
The procurement of resources, according to the CPUC, goes something like this:
- 2,000 MW by 2023
- 6,000 MW by 2024
- 1,500 MW by 2025
- 2,000 MW by 2026
Totaling 11,500 MW of clean, carbon, and radiation-free renewable power for the State of California – all without Diablo Canyon’s toxic energy.
Last March, the CAISO approved a transmission plan that includes 23 projects, estimated to cost nearly $3 billion, “to cope with the dramatic increase in renewable generation and forecasted load growth in its footprint.”
What is more, according to Peter Skala, Director of Efficiency, Electrification, and Procurement, Energy Division, California PUC, “the CPUC and the California Independent System Operator are assessing various options for connecting out-of-state wind and geothermal resources to the California grid through formal transmission and resource planning efforts.”
While PG&E now awaits its license renewal for Diablo Canyon, the state and renewable energy experts are focused on building up the renewable resources supply. We anticipate the California Energy Commission’s December 15, 2022, report vetting the supply and demand of energy in California to determine if we are on track to shut Diablo down as originally scheduled by 2025. SB 846, luckily, leaves the door open for that possibility. If the state can procure enough renewables, it will save us from the need to safeguard additional nuclear waste, risking the health and safety of millions of citizens living downwind from the two earthquake-prone reactors at Diablo Canyon.