PG&E plays coy on the future of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant
California’s pioneering role in nuclear power started in 1957, when Southern California Edison powered up the nation’s first civilian commercial nuclear plant at Santa Susana to provide electricity to the neighboring city of Moorpark. That 60-year history may be coming to an end.
Its fate rests with the state’s last operating nuclear plant, Pacific Gas & Electric’s Diablo Canyon plant, located on the Pacific coastline in San Luis Obispo County. The original 40-year federal licenses for the plant’s two units expire in 2024 and 2025, and PG&E has been dithering over whether to pursue extensions covering an additional 20 years.
More than just the future of Diablo Canyon lies in limbo. The plant’s generating capacity of 2,160 megawatts affects the development of the state’s renewable electric resources. Although PG&E has asserted that the plant’s continued operation would save its customers as much as $16 billion during the additional 20 years, the cost of bringing Diablo Canyon into compliance with environmental and seismic mandates may in fact not be worth the effort.
Energy regulators and advocates have few clues to whether PG&E’s goal is to seek Diablo Canyon’s renewal or find an easy excuse for shutting it down early. “They’re so cagey about the future that I can’t help thinking there’s a strategy here,” says Matthew Freedman, a staff attorney for the consumer watchdog group Turn.
Freedman believes the utility’s intention is to delay the renewal proceeding long enough to hamper any opposition. In 2007, the state Public Utilities Commission directed the utility to decide whether to seek renewal at least 10 years in advance of the license expirations, so energy planners would have time to figure out how to replace Diablo Canyon’s output if the plant went dark. Waiting much longer would be “reckless and gambling with the public interest,” the PUC said. That moment is now.