Democratic Governor of California Gavin Newsom is proposing an extension of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant after it was set to completely close by 2025.
The California state legislature now has a few weeks to consider the plan. The session is set to end at the end of this month, meaning unless a special session is called afterwards, the lawmakers must decide soon.
The governor’s proposal involves a possible forgivable loan for PG&E, the company that runs the plant, for as much as $1.4 billion and would need state agencies to take action soon in order to allow the reactors to keep up production, according to the Associated Press.
A draft of the bill was secured on August 11 before a California Energy Commission meeting on the state’s power requirements and how the nuclear plant could play a part in keeping up the power. The nuclear plant creates almost 9% of the state’s power, according to the San Luis Obispo Tribune.
The proposal argued that its prolonged production for five to ten years longer than 2025 is “critical to ensure statewide energy system reliability and to minimize the emissions of greenhouse gasses while additional renewable energy resources come online, until those new renewable energy resources are adequate to meet demand.”
The plant would need to be relicensed with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which can take a long time, but the draft bill cuts some red tape and allows for the extension to not be held liable to the California Environmental Quality Act. It also bans any new environmental analysis by the California Coastal Commission.
The draft proposal also allows PG&E to be free from following state water laws until October 2035, and prolongs its permit until that time, as well. It will be charged a “mitigation fee” of $10 per million gallons of ocean water is utilized, starting in 2024, with a 3% increase each following year. It already assumes that it will need to pay around $38 million of mitigation fees for 2015 through 2025, per the state water board.
Newsom has been open about his support for potentially keeping the plant up as the energy grid in California continues to be a concern. In August of 2020, there were rolling blackouts caused by high temperatures and a grid that wasn’t able to sustain the demand. Newsom has pressed PG&E to find ways to stay open, stating that the nuclear energy is necessary as California attempts to prioritize green energy.
“The governor has been clear for months about the potential need to extend the life of Diablo Canyon,” Newsom spokesman Anthony York told the AP. He noted that the governor has discussed the necessity to keep all options open to continue to have reliable energy and that “this proposal reflects the continued need to keep that flexibility.”
Last month, PG&E CEO Patricia “Patti” Poppe reportedly told investors during a call that a measure would need to be enacted by September in order for the plant to stop the process of closing down.
PG&E is examining the potential situation of staying open past 2025, while still making plans to shut down and break up the plant “unless those actions are superseded by new state policies,” PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn told the AP in a statement.
“PG&E is committed to California’s clean energy future, and as a regulated utility, we are required to follow the energy policies of the state. We understand state leaders’ discussions to potentially extend operations at [Diablo Canyon Power Plant] are progressing,” Hosn told The Daily Wire in an emailed statement. “We are proud of the role that [Diablo Canyon Power Plant] 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.”
Environmental groups are not in favor of the plan, saying it is a “dangerous” betrayal of the agreement made in 2016.
“Legislators should reject it out of hand,” Friends of the Earth said in a statement, adding, “The State of California would loan PG&E up to $1.4 billion to cover costs of extending Diablo Canyon’s operating life, with all of the loan potentially ‘forgivable,’ meaning it may never be returned to California taxpayers.”
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-San Luis Obispo) has been pushing to keep the plant up and running.
“The soonest any offshore wind power is going to be put to use in the grid is probably 2030, from what I’ve been told,” he told the Tribune. “So we’ve got a real gap from 2025 to 2030. If you could extend Diablo to help meet some of that gap, then you’re displacing mostly natural gas power.”
“The reality is, when they made that decision in 2016, we assumed we’d be a certain place with renewables and storage, and we’re just not there,” he noted.