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For years, Energy Fairness has urged California lawmakers to keep Diablo Canyon, the state’s last remaining nuclear plant, online. Finally, Governor Gavin Newsome heard those calls and has released a draft proposal for extending the lifespan of the two reactors by five to ten years.

The proposal calls for keeping Unit 1 open until October 31, 2029, and Unit 2 until October 31, 2030. After five years, the state will decide whether to keep them open for another five years, with a final closure date set for October 31, 2035. Additionally, if plant operator PG&E applies to get the plant’s operating license extended, the state of California will loan the utility $1.4 billion to help with the costs. Federal funding can also be secured from the U.S. Department of Energy’s $6 billion program intended to preserve the existing U.S. fleet of nuclear power reactors passed as part of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law last year. 

“The proposed language provides a pathway for relicensing at the U.S Nuclear Regulatory Commission so that PG&E may apply for this funding,” the memo from the governor’s office says.

While the plan doesn’t keep the plants open indefinitely, it does aim to provide sorely needed clean, reliable energy to the state’s fragile power grid.

The move to keep the plants open is in stark contrast to Governor Newsome’s previous stance. Only a year ago, the governor doubled down on plans to Close Diablo Canyon. What changed?

The draft legislation points to the struggling California power grid, which famously failed only two years ago. It’s important to note that Diablo Canyon supplies 10% of the Golden State’s electricity. If the state is already having trouble keeping the lights on, what happens if the state loses 18,000 GWh of reliable, emission-free nuclear power?

Also compounding the issue is the lack of renewable resources. California has ambitious carbon reduction goals, but the supply chain issues that have plagued every sector of the post-Covid economy have also contributed to a slow build-out of new renewable resources. Keeping the nuclear reactors online could help the state achieve its goals. 

Ultimately, if the legislation passes, the final decision will be up to PG&E. While the company has signaled that it may be interested in keeping Diablo Canyon open, it needs the bill signed into law by September in order to reverse course on the plant closure. 

“Earlier this year, Governor Newsom reached out to ask us to evaluate keeping Diablo Canyon open beyond its scheduled retirement in 2024 and 2025 to support the capacity and reliability of the state’s electric supply system,” says PG&E CEO Patricia K. Poppe. “We’re exploring the possibility of keeping this plant open for California’s benefit. It is not an easy option, and it will require much coordination between the state, multiple regulatory bodies and PG&E as well as many others impacted by the outcome of this decision.”

While there are still many details to be ironed out, it seems that California finally recognizes the value of nuclear energy. That’s a step in the right direction for the state and the U.S.