State Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton, has introduced a California constitutional amendment that could theoretically allow Diablo Canyon Power Plant to continue operating beyond its scheduled closure date by designating nuclear power as a renewable energy source.

However, a spokeswoman for plant owner Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said the constitutional amendment, even if enacted, would have no effect on the company’s plans to close Diablo.

And a representative of an anti-nuclear group said decisions already made by a state agency, the permits required and the costs involved would prevent anyone from purchasing and operating the plant

A statement from Cunningham’s office said ACA 18 would create fairness in the renewable energy market, pointing out the state’s climate change laws don’t allow all types of carbon-emission-free power sources to be counted toward emissions goals.

The statement said state law “picks and chooses winners and losers” in the renewable energy marketplace by excluding such power sources as nuclear and large-scale hydroelectric projects from its Renewables Portfolio Standard.

“Basic principles of fairness demand that we count all carbon-free power — including nuclear and large hydro — towards our climate goals,” Cunningham said. “Furthermore, it will be extremely difficult if not impossible, for the state to meet its 2030 and 2045 climate goals without counting nuclear and large hydro.”

The last operating nuclear plant in California, Diablo Canyon currently produces 9% of the state’s electric power.

PG&E is currently in bankruptcy proceedings and has chosen to shutter the plant in 2025 after its twin reactors’ operating licenses expire.

Gene Nelson of Arroyo Grande, a legal assistant for the pro-nuclear organization Californians for Green Nuclear Power, said rather than depreciating Diablo’s value to zero by 2025 and closing the plant, PG&E would be doing “a far better favor to shareholders and California by selling the thing and giving a portion of the proceeds to wildfire victims.”

Environmental Progress, which has been working with Cunningham’s office on drafting ACA 18, estimated the plant’s market value could be $3.6 billion.

“One of the parts of the puzzle here is to find a buyer for a nuclear power plant,” Nelson said, adding the organization is now talking with large corporations that have nuclear power expertise.

But even if the constitutional amendment makes it past the Legislature and is approved by voters, it won’t make much difference in the plant’s future.

“It doesn’t change any of PG&E’s plans,” PG&E spokesperson Suzanne Hosn said of the proposed amendment, adding California has made its position clear on energy, and the company will continue its efforts to meet the state’s goals. “We’re just going to run the plant to the end of the licenses.”

David Weisman, outreach coordinator for the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said the amendment would in theory allow the plant to keep operating, “but there are a few serious caveats to that theory.”

“Regardless of who owns the plant, the State Water Resources Control Board has [ordered that] all once-through cooling plants be phased out by 2024,” Weisman said, adding that PG&E will have to apply to the Water Board to operate the plant to the license expiration in 2025.

Weisman said a PG&E study showed it would cost $2 billion to replace the once-through cooling system with cooling towers, which would not make it attractive to buyers.

He also said any new owner would be unable to build on existing records and would not only have to apply to the Nuclear Regulatory Commission for operating licenses but also to the Coastal Commission and State Lands Commission for other permits, all of which would require new seismic studies and new environmental impact reports.

010919 DCPP_Aerial

Pictured is an aerial photograph of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. In 2016, Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced plans to shutter Diablo Canyon at the expiration of its Nuclear Regulatory Commission operating licenses in 2024 and 2025. PG&E is focused on continuing safe and reliable operations at Diablo Canyon, while also preparing decommissioning plans that consider community input. 

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