A Plan To Replace California’s Last Nuclear Plant With Green Energy May Backfire


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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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A deal struck between utility officials and environmental groups to shut down California’s last nuclear plant and replace it with green energy is not going according to plan.

California Administrative Law Judge Peter Allen issued a proposed decision that rejected Pacific Gas & Electric’s (PG&E) plan to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant with energy efficiency and solar and wind power.

“There is no reason to approve a $1.3 billion rate increase for a proposal that will most likely either fail to achieve its goal or will achieve a goal not worth reaching,” Allen wrote in his decision issued in early November.

Allen’s proposed decision is still subject to approval by the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC), but environmentalists already see the ruling as endangering their costly plan to replace Diablo Canyon green energy and energy efficiency.

“Its key shortcoming is that it fails to include any actions to ensure that the plant will be fully replaced with greenhouse gas free resources,” Peter Miller, the western state energy director at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), wrote in a blog post.

“The judge’s proposed decision not only rejects an initial investment in replacement resources, but also fails to commit the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) to ensuring that the retirement of the mammoth nuclear plant will not result in an increase in carbon pollution,” Miller wrote.

NRDC was one of several environmental groups to enter into a 2016 settlement with PG&E to close the Diablo nuclear plant by 2025 and replace it with green energy.

Now, NRDC is outraged their settlement may not go as planned, more than a year after Miller celebrated the Diablo Canyon settlement and PG&E’s commitment to energy efficiency.

“The proposed decision also fails to approve an initial procurement of cost- effective energy efficiency resources as a modest down payment on the full amount needed to replace the output of Diablo Canyon,” Miller wrote. “By failing to take any near-term action on replacement procurement, the proposed decision will impose greater costs on electricity consumers and make it more difficult to meet the state’s ambitious environmental objectives.”

NRDC, like many eco-groups, opposes nuclear power over safety concerns, and because it prevents more solar and wind power from being added to the grid. Nuclear power plant output can’t easily be turned up and down to make way for variable green energy production.

However, pro-nuclear environmentalists were outraged with the 2016 settlement, warning that replacing Diablo Canyon with all zero-greenhouse gas emission energy was not realistic.

Allen’s proposed decision only supported pro-nuclear claims the nuclear plant would just be replaced by natural gas — meaning greenhouse gas emissions would end up increasing, the opposite of NRDC’s goal.

Replacing Diablo Canyon wasn’t supposed to be cheap either. Replacing the nuclear plant with solar energy, for example, could cost $15 billion based on current prices, according to Bloomberg Intelligence.

And that’s on top of the $3.8 billion that PG&E estimated it will cost to decommission to power plant. Labor unions also backed the settlement on promises of money for retraining and compensating local communities for lost tax revenues.

But that may not happen either. Allen ruled that California ratepayers should not be expected to compensate local governments as part of the settlement. Now, San Luis Obispo county may not get the $85 million promised to pay for schools and other programs.

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