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Newsom wants state to loan PG&E $1.4 billion to relicense Diablo Canyon

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The last-minute push to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant running past 2025 just got its biggest shot in the arm yet. Draft state legislation introduced this month would loan PG&E up to $1.4 billion to help it relicense the nuclear plant for another five to 10 years of operation.

NEED NUCLEAR? A new state bill proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom would loan PG&E $1.4 billion to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant running another five or 10 years. The legislation has drawn both praise and criticism from stakeholders. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Slo County
  • NEED NUCLEAR? A new state bill proposed by Gov. Gavin Newsom would loan PG&E $1.4 billion to keep Diablo Canyon Power Plant running another five or 10 years. The legislation has drawn both praise and criticism from stakeholders.

Gov. Gavin Newsom—who in recent months has signaled his interest in reversing course on Diablo's planned closure—unveiled the legislation on Aug. 11 in the waning weeks of the state's legislative session.

The proposed law cites the impacts of climate change on the state and the slower than expected rollout of renewable energy supplies as reasons for keeping California's last nuclear plant around longer.

"The impacts of climate change are occurring sooner and with greater intensity and frequency than anticipated, causing unprecedented stress on California's energy system," the draft legislation reads. "Continued operations of the Diablo Canyon for an additional five to 10 years beyond 2024-25 is therefore critical to ensure statewide energy system reliability and to minimize the emissions of greenhouse gasses while additional renewable energy resources come online."

State lawmakers will need to quickly deliberate on the bill, which has to be passed this month and signed by Newsom in September.

On Aug. 12, the California Energy Commission hosted a public workshop about the new legislation, with presentations from Newsom's office and the California Independent System Operator.

The meeting also featured hours of public comment, as well as statements from a variety of local elected officials, including state Sen. John Laird (D-Santa Cruz).

In his comments, Laird listed numerous concerns about the legislation and the possible extension of Diablo Canyon's life, but said he "stands ready" to have the conversation.

"I don't think we yet have all the answers as to whether Diablo Canyon's continued operation is the key to energy reliability in California," Laird said. "But we do know what the challenges are that would have to be met if there is to be an extension of Diablo Canyon's life."

Those challenges include plant safety, relicensing costs, spent nuclear fuel storage, seismic safety issues, environmental impacts, permitting, Diablo Canyon lands, and the continued development of offshore wind farms.

"I don't see a pathway to Diablo Canyon's continued operation unless each of these elements is addressed," Laird said.

State Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham (R-SLO), a longtime advocate for keeping Diablo Canyon open past 2025, acknowledged Laird's points of concern, but also echoed the problems that underpin Newsom's legislation.

"One thing that has changed in the years since the decision was made in 2016 to decommission the plant in 2025 is that we simply are not where we thought we'd be with renewable energy production, and coupling that with storage," Cunningham said. "It's put the state grid in a rather precarious position."

Among the opponents to the legislation is a coalition of environmental groups that includes the Natural Resources Defense Council, Sierra Club California, California Coastal Protection Network, Environment California, Defenders of Wildlife, Friends of the Earth, and the California Coastkeeper Alliance.

In an Aug. 12 letter to state lawmakers, the coalition takes issue with the way the bill allows PG&E to bypass environment review for the plant, how it hamstrings other state agencies that provide oversight of it, and how the $1.4 billion loan from the state could become forgivable.

"This trailer bill is a dangerous and costly distraction to achieving our shared goals," the coalition's letter read. Δ

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