California promised to close its last nuclear plant. Now Newsom is reconsidering

BY SAMMY ROTH

Los Angeles Times

April 29, 2022


With the threat of power shortages looming and the climate crisis worsening, Gov. Gavin Newsom may attempt to delay the long-planned closure of California’s largest electricity source: the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.


Newsom told the L.A. Times editorial board Thursday that the state would seek out a share of $6 billion in federal funds meant to rescue nuclear reactors facing closure, money the Biden administration announced this month. Diablo Canyon owner Pacific Gas & Electric is preparing to shutter the plant — which generated 6% of the state’s power last year — by 2025.


“The requirement is by May 19 to submit an application, or you miss the opportunity to draw down any federal funds if you want to extend the life of that plant,” Newsom said. “We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option.”


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Nuclear plants are America’s largest source of climate-friendly power, generating 19% of the country’s electricity last year. That’s almost as much as solar panels, wind turbines, hydropower dams and all other zero-carbon energy sources combined.

A recent UC Berkeley poll co-sponsored by The Times found that 44% of California voters support building more nuclear reactors in in the Golden State, with 37% opposed and 19% undecided — a significant change from the 1980s and 1990s.


The poll also found that 39% of voters oppose shutting down Diablo Canyon, with 33% supporting closure and 28% unsure.


Nuclear supporters say closing plants such as Diablo would make it far more difficult to achieve President Biden’s goal of 100% clean energy by 2035, and to mostly eliminate planet-warming emissions by midcentury — which is necessary to avert the worst impacts of climate change, including more dangerous heat waves, wildfires and floods, according to scientists.


Nuclear plants can produce power around the clock. The stunning growth of lithium-ion battery storage has made it easier and cheaper for solar panels and wind turbines to do the same, but those renewables still play much less of a role when the sun isn’t shining and wind isn’t blowing, at least for now.


The U.S. Commerce Department, meanwhile, is considering tariffs on imported solar panels, which could hinder construction of clean energy projects that California is counting on to avoid blackouts the next few summers, as Diablo and several gas-fired power plants shut down. Newsom said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo this week that her department’s tariff inquiry has delayed at least 4,350 megawatts of solar-plus-storage projects — about twice the capacity of Diablo Canyon.


The governor said he’s been thinking about keeping Diablo open longer since August 2020, when California’s main electric grid operator was forced to implement rolling blackouts during an intense heat wave. Temperatures stayed high after sundown, leaving the state without enough electricity to keep air conditioners humming after solar farms stopped producing.


A few hundred thousand homes and businesses lost power over two evenings, none of them for longer than 2½ hours at a time, officials said. The state only narrowly avoided more power shortfalls during another heat storm a few weeks later, highlighting the fragility of an electric grid undergoing a rapid transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy.


Newsom spokesperson Anthony York said the governor’s decision to reconsider Diablo Canyon’s closure timeline was driven by projections of possible power shortages in the next few years. Those projections, he said, came from the California Independent System Operator, which oversees the electric grid for most of the state.


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Supporting nuclear is a key climate priority for the Biden administration. But federal officials hadn’t seemed optimistic PG&E would apply for a share of the Energy Department’s $6-billion nuclear bailout fund. During a visit to Southern California last week, Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm told reporters she’s “not sure that the community [around] Diablo Canyon is on board yet.”


> Read full article


> Read report by Stanford, MIT and LucidCatalyst that provides research and analysis for supporting Diablo Canyon to remain open


Justin Aborn, a Senior Consultant at LucidCatalyst, LLC, performed the analysis in and wrote Chapters 3 and 4 of the report.