California’s Last Nuclear Power Plant Could Close
California, among the first states to embrace nuclear energy in the 1950s, may be breaking things off for good.
Under a proposal announced on Tuesday, Pacific Gas and Electric would shutter the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the state’s last operating nuclear facility, and would compensate for the lost output with technologies that do not emit greenhouse gases, including renewable energy.
The proposal, part of an agreement with environmental and labor groups, is intended to help meet California’s aggressive clean energy goals, which have already transformed the power mix with a large and growing renewable energy fleet at a time of slowing electric demand. It also comes after years of public pressure to close the plant, near San Luis Obispo, because of safety concerns over its location, near several fault lines, and its use of ocean water for cooling.
“California’s energy landscape is changing dramatically, with energy efficiency, renewables and storage being central to the state’s energy policy,” Tony Earley, PG&E’s chief executive, said in a prepared statement. “Diablo Canyon’s full output will no longer be required.”
Under the proposal, which would require the approval of the California Public Utilities Commission, the plant’s two reactors would be shut down in 2024 and 2025, when their operating licenses expire, as long as the State Lands Commission extends a permit set to expire in 2018 that grants access to the ocean for the cooling operation.
The planned closing comes as the future of many of the country’s 99 nuclear reactors — a majority of which are more than 30 years old — is looking grim. The flood of cheap natural gas and slowing demand for electricity have driven down power prices, making it difficult for the aging plants to compete in wholesale markets. In recent years, several plants have shut down before their licenses expired, and more early closings are planned or threatened around the country.
But nuclear plants provide nearly 60 percent of the country’s carbon dioxide-free power. So some state and federal officials, and environmentalists have been scrambling to help save the plants in order to meet national goals to stem climate change. A rise in greenhouse gas emissions has tended to follow closings of nuclear plants, as they have most often been replaced by natural gas. That was the case in New England and California after Vermont Yankee and San Onofre shut down.
The plan for Diablo Canyon, which began operating in 1985 and stirred controversy from the start, is aimed at avoiding that.
“It lays out an effective road map for a nuclear phaseout in the world’s sixth-largest economy, while assuring a green energy replacement plan to make California a global leader in fighting climate change,” said Erich Pica, president of Friends of the Earth, an environmental group that was formed in opposition to the plant in 1969 and that helped develop the agreement.