Battle Brewing About California’s Role in Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant Retirement
An assortment of entities have sought to intervene in a complaint alleging that the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) and California state agencies violated bulk power system reliability standards when they approved retirement of the 2,240-MW Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP) by 2025.
Before the comment deadline on Nov. 16, at least 15 entities sought intervention in the Oct. 26 complaint filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) by nonprofit nuclear advocacy group Californians for Green Nuclear Power Inc. (CGNP) over regulatory approvals of Pacific Gas & Electric Co. (PG&E’s) voluntary plan to permanently shutter the nuclear plant near Avila Beach, California. Intervenors include nuclear advocacy organizations, trade groups, power companies, and environmental and citizen groups.
A Dispute About Resources and Reliability
PG&E announced it would shutter the 1,138-MWe Unit 1 and the 1,151-MWe Unit 2, both Westinghouse pressurized water reactor units, in June 2016, upon the expiration of the reactors’ operating licenses—November 2024 for Unit 1 and August 2025 for Unit 2.
The utility reached the decision after reaching a “joint proposal” with labor and environmental groups that sought to increase investment in energy efficiency, energy storage, and renewables beyond the state’s 2015 mandates to source 50% of its power from renewables, while also phasing out nuclear power in California by 2025. While the CPUC approved PG&E’s application to shutter the plant in January 2018, an initiative to replace the plant’s power with zero-carbon options was enshrined in state law by California’s former Gov. Jerry Brown in September 2018.
But in its complaint (Docket No. EL21-13-000), CGNP claims CAISO, the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), the California State Water Resources Control Board (CSWRCB), and California State Lands Commission (CSLC) violated the North American Reliability Corp.’s (NERC’s) bulk power system standards when the CPUC approved PG&E’s plan to close the two-unit plant by 2025 “without first properly analyzing the adverse bulk electric system and adverse bulk natural gas system consequences, in light of known California-specific hazards, including those caused by seismic activity and the Public Safety Power Shutoff (PSPS) policies enacted by” the CPUC.
The complaint also alleges NERC and the Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC) “failed to conduct proper oversight or enforced NERC’s reliability standards,” which “will be violated” by removing Diablo Canyon’s 2,240 MW from California’s grid. “Recent events, including the August 2020 blackouts that affected millions of California utility customers, point to the underlying reliability issue facing California’s electric grid, even with DCPP continuing to operate,” it says. “The premature closure of DCPP will only exacerbate current reliability issues, and is inconsistent with federal law.”
Risks Amplified by a Recent Power Crisis
As POWER has reported, according to a preliminary investigation released on Oct. 6 by CAISO, the CPUC, and the California Energy Commission (CEC), the state’s most recent reliability crisis is rooted in faulty resource planning targets, “which have not kept pace to lead to sufficient resources that can be relied upon to meet demand in the early evening hours.” The entities noted those challenges were “amplified” by high system demand, unanticipated loss of supply, and low net import availability, all stemming from an extreme heat wave, which sent temperatures soaring into the triple digits.