Hope May Be On the Horizon for Diablo Canyon

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Over the years, Energy Fairness has taken a firm stance against the closure of California’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon. Energy experts have long worried that the Golden State’s power grid is not ready to face the consequences of having the plants close. Nonetheless, the plants have still been scheduled to close. The good news? Governor Gavin Newsom might be having a change of heart. 

Diablo Canyon’s two units will be taken offline in 2024 and 2025 when their current licenses expire. We’ve noted that closing the facility will increase emissions and render the Golden State’s power grid even more unstable. An MIT study released last year clearly confirmed that prediction. Diablo Canyon provides 15% of California’s carbon-free power, meaning its closure will throw the state’s aggressive carbon reduction goals in jeopardy. 

What brought on Governor Newsom’s apparent about-face?

In November, the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law President Joe Biden signed into law included a $6 billion program intended to preserve the existing U.S. nuclear fleet. The deadline to apply is May 19. With this much funding potentially on the table, it makes sense to shore up California’s notoriously fragile power grid and protect a significant source of emission-free power. 

“We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option,” says Governor Newsom. “We’re going to worst-case scenario. We are being very sober.”

Additionally, California energy officials have warned that the state faces a risk of energy shortfalls this summer and beyond if officials don’t find new energy sources. Closing an existing reliable source of energy will only heighten the risk of blackouts. 

However, Governor Newsom has made it clear that he’s not open to keeping the plants open indefinitely and that his goal is still to shut them down eventually. Despite that eventual goal, he acknowledged the need for reliable electricity.

There has been debate about extending the facility’s life since California faced massive blackouts in August of 2020. Nuclear energy remains a hot-button issue in the state and it’s likely that closure has always been more about politics than money. 

While Governor Newsom’s tepid support is a positive step forward, it’s not enough to keep the plant online. The ultimate decision is up to Diablo Canyon’s owner, Pacific Gas & Electric. PG&E will have to file for an extension of the plant’s operating license, a process that can take up to 22 months. With the license for Unit 1 expiring in 2024, time is running out. For its part, PG&E has not announced a decision yet. 

“The people of PG&E are proud of the role that Diablo Canyon Power Plant plays in our state,” says Suzanne Hosn, spokesperson for PG&E. “We are always open to considering all options to ensure continued safe, reliable, and clean energy delivery to our customers.”

It remains to be seen whether Diablo Canyon will still close on its scheduled date or if the plant will receive at least a temporary lifeline. What is clear is that nuclear energy has an important role to play in our energy mix and isn’t easy to replace. For the good of the grid and its users, let’s hope California can find the political will to keep the plant open.