After the U.S. Department of Energy extended the deadline to apply for funds to keep troubled nuclear plants operating, opponents last week laid out reasons why Diablo Canyon Power Plant would not qualify for the federal funds and should be shut down as planned.

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants Pacific Gas and Electric Co. to obtain money from the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, part of the bipartisan infrastructure bill, to keep Diablo Canyon operating past the 2025 final shutdown date so it can provide power as California transitions to 100% renewable energy.

The original deadline to apply for the funds was May 19, but the governor’s office asked for a deadline extension. Department of Energy said it pushed the deadline back to July 5 in order to gather more applications.

It’s not clear if any other nuclear plant owners asked for a deadline extension, and the Department of Energy has not said how many applications it has received.

Despite the governor’s proposal to keep Diablo operating, PG&E is continuing toward the goal of closing the plant’s two reactor units as planned, spokeswoman Suzanne Hosn said.

“While federal funding would lower the cost of continued operations for the company and our customers, current state policy is to close the plant in 2024-2025,” Hosn said.

Last week, a group of five individuals dubbed experts on nuclear power explained why the plant should close and why it can’t qualify for the federal money in an online briefing sponsored by longtime plant opponent San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.

Members of the briefing panel said keeping the nuclear power plant open would actually impede the state’s transition to renewable energy.

Tim Judson, executive director of the nonprofit Nuclear Information and Resource Service, said one reason Diablo Canyon is being closed is to facilitate the growth of renewable energy and to help the state achieve its emission targets.

“Not only is California going to be replacing Diablo Canyon with a portfolio of resources that are greenhouse gas emission-free, but in fact the total amount of that adds up to much more than Diablo Canyon’s output,” Judson said, noting that by 2026, the state’s renewable energy production will reach 10 times the generating capacity of Diablo Canyon.

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Robert Freehling, an energy policy consultant, said the state has already replaced Diablo Canyon’s output with electricity from renewable resources many times over, with residential rooftop solar generating currently producing 12,000 megawatts and adding another 1,000 megawatts every year.

Energy efficiency improvements alone will replace Diablo’s production every three years, Freehling said.

“So my question is, how many times do we have to replace Diablo Canyon before we, as a state, acknowledge that we’ve actually replaced it?” he said. “Ten, 20, 30 times? ’Cause that’s where we’re headed, and we’ve already replaced it many times.”

Freehling said the issue is further complicated by customers that “have left PG&E in droves” for community choice energy programs, which he said has prompted the company to divest itself of half the renewable energy sources it had already acquired that made up 40% of its energy mix.

“While PG&E has met and is meeting its obligations under state law regarding replacement power via the Integrated Resource Plan process, the state is indicating concern that the retirement of Diablo Canyon could adversely impact overall grid reliability due to changes in electricity demand and shifts in load that have occurred in recent years, as well as potential delays in new clean energy projects under development across the state due to supply chain disruptions,” Hosn said.

Briefing panel members said Diablo Canyon can’t qualify for the federal funds because the money is expressly earmarked for nuclear plants that are struggling financially or functioning in an unregulated energy market.

California Public Utilities Commission regulates the state’s energy production and allows PG&E’s rates to cover its operating costs, so the plant has been profitable.

But Hosn said PG&E has not applied for the federal funding yet.

“The state has asked our views about eligibility but has not directed us to pursue the credit,” Hosn said. “If the [Department of Energy] changes eligibility criteria, we would have to evaluate changes to the guidelines.

“If eligible, PG&E will consider applying, given the potential savings for our customers should the state want to preserve the option to extend [Diablo Canyon Power Plant] operations to help ensure grid reliability.”

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