Eco-Group Behind California Nuke Plant’s Closing May Financially Benefit From It

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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The main environmental group behind the closing of California’s last nuclear power plant may benefit financially from its closing, according to an environmental activist opposed to the plant’s closing.

“The lead environmental organization that negotiated a proposal with Pacific Gas & Electric to close California’s last nuclear power plant could significantly benefit financially from its closure, as could the trustees that govern the organization, and its donors,” Mike Shellenberger, founder of the pro-nuclear eco-group Environmental Progress, wrote in a blog post.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), one of two environmental groups behind the Diablo Canyon power plant’s closure, has two trustees and at least one major donor who possess natural gas and green energy holdings. NRDC itself has investments in green energy.

What’s the problem? Diablo Canyon will be closed by 2025 and replaced with wind energy, solar power and energy efficiency measures. That means NRDC and its allies could boost their investments as the plant is powered down and replaced with green energy.

“Diablo Canyon contributes such a significant amount of power to the grid — about 8 percent of California’s electricity — that removing it could create profitable business opportunities for solar, wind, battery, bioenergy and natural gas companies,” Shellenberger wrote.

PG&E recently announced an agreement it came to with NRDC, along with other environmentalists and labor unions, to completely shut down the Diablo Canyon power plant in central California by 2025. In return, NRDC and others got PG&E to agree to increase its use of green energy sources, and eventually Diablo Canyon’s capacity will all be replaced with energy efficiency measures and green sources, like wind and solar.

Decommissioning the Diablo Canyon is expected to cost PG&E $3.8 billion, but it could end up being a net gain for NRDC board members and donors, according to Shellenberger.

“The two highest-ranking members of NRDC’s Board of Trustees, its Chair and Vice Chair, as well as one of NRDC’s single largest donors, are all major investors in natural gas and renewables companies, could benefit significantly from Diablo’s closure,” Shellenberger wrote.

NRDC’s 2014 financial report shows the group had more than $7.7 million invested in four green energy equity funds. What’s interesting is NRDC’s lead negotiator on Diablo’s closing told The New York Times the plant needed to close to accommodate more solar and wind power.

“Giant baseload nuclear power plants like Diablo Canyon cannot easily be taken offline, or ramped up and down, as system needs change,” Ralph Cavanagh said.  “This worsening problem is forcing the California grid operator to shut down low­-cost renewable generation that could otherwise be used productively.”

NRDC also has trustees and donors who could benefit from Diablo’s closing as well, according to Shellenberger.

“NRDC has three Vice Chairs, one of whom is Max Stone, a managing partner at D.E. Shaw, an investment firm that on June 16, 2016, bought a solar farm in California that has a power purchase agreement with PG&E,” he wrote. “If Diablo Canyon closes, PG&E may make many more such deals with solar farm builders.”

“One of NRDC’s largest donors is Nat Simmons, an investor in solar, wind, biofuels and other renewable energy companies,” he wrote.

NRDC also teamed up with a financial firm to create the “Ex-Fossil Fuels Index Fund,” which invests in natural gas and green energy. NRDC put $66 million into this fund, according to financial disclosures.

“NRDC worked closely with Black Rock to create the fund, and more natural gas pipelines will likely needed in California if Diablo Closes,” Shellenberger wrote. “The lack of of natural gas pipeline capacity is one of the key factors state officials say is behind power outages in Southern California.”

“This is a ridiculous rant. NRDC has been fighting for clean, renewable power for decades because we have to end our reliance on fossil fuels,” Edwin Chen, NRDC’s lead spokesman, told the Daily Caller News Foundation.

“That’s what this is about. The agreement ensures that energy efficiency, renewable power and other smart energy technologies – not fossil fuels – will replace the electricity from Diablo Canyon when its reactors are retired in 2024 and 2025. To suggest NRDC participated in this to advance the financial interests of the institution or its Trustees is absurd,” he said.

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