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Diablo scare tactic



Excuse me: Are we still having the "keep the Diablo Canyon Power Plant open" debate?

Memo to Stanford, MIT, and U.S. Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm: Please acquaint yourself with the long voyage of discovery that found a spiderweb of active earthquake faults around the nuclear power plant, the upgrading of the power that the quakes could generate, and the corresponding and increasingly unconvincing "pencil engineering" by PG&E and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that kept upping the alleged quake resistance of the reactors (and all the ancillary electrical and cooling infrastructure they depend on), should one of those earthquakes occur.

Also note the additional decades of sticking the Central Coast with an ever-growing supply of the world's most lethal byproduct (the bitter irony of characterizing Diablo Canyon's power as "clean"), with no permanent repository, after decades of promises that one will be found somewhere, someday.

Diablo's fans are worried about replacing the jobs that will go away with Diablo. First, the decommissioning and removal of the plant constitutes a 30-year work project. Second, those concerns might best be focused on protecting our regional Community Choice Aggregation program and urging a greater emphasis on the creation of local renewable energy projects—and all of the solar, wind, energy efficiency, and green economy jobs that come with them.

But let's get down to it. The central argument of the latest chorus of voices in favor of keeping Diablo open is that an inevitable surge in natural gas and carbon emissions is going to happen if the plant closes. Also, the state can't keep the lights on, let alone meet its clean energy goals, without Diablo.

While nuance generally loses out when arguing with a slogan on a blimp, as was paraded through downtown SLO last week, I'll give it a shot.

Nuclear power has been shoving renewable energy off the grid for decades. PG&E put it thusly to the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), framing it the other way around: "As more solar generation comes on line over time, and when its output is at peak supply (e.g., in the middle of the day), there is less room on the electric system for energy from inflexible and large baseload resources such as Diablo Canyon."

Nuclear finally getting out of the picture will mean the combination of solar, wind, storage, efficiency, and all and sundry flexible, non-baseline resources can be brought to bear at full force.

Last June, the CPUC ordered utilities to procure 11,500 megawatts (MW) of new electricity resources by 2026, all from renewables and distributed energy resources, including solar PV, microgrids, energy efficiency, and demand response. In making that announcement, the commission noted that these resources will replace "electricity generation from more than 3,700 MW of retiring natural gas plants and 2,200 MW from Pacific Gas and Electric Company's retiring Diablo Canyon Power Plant. At least 2,500 MW of zero-emitting resources were ordered specifically to replace generation from Diablo Canyon, which is in addition to capacity already procured over the past several years for the same purpose."

Commissioner Clifford Rechtschaffen is quoted in the order announcement saying: "The procurement we ordered is equal to output of four large nuclear power plants or 20 natural gas plants. Included is solar, wind, geothermal, and long duration storage—pumped hydro facilities or other emerging technologies that can store energy for eight hours or longer. Our actions today will ensure that we can keep the lights on during periods of greatest demand, even as we retire Diablo Canyon and other natural gas plants."

That "capacity already procured" referred to a tenfold increase in battery storage, coming online next summer, and another 3,300 MW to come online by 2023. Also we can count on 4,000 MW between now and August 2024 thanks to California's Renewables Portfolio Standard and other state clean energy programs.

With a little throat clearing, the CPUC also noted that the June procurement order had been preceded by an alternate proposal the month before, but "the proposal was ... revised in response to comments from parties to make the procurement 100 percent greenhouse-gas-free and renewable, and the alternate proposal was then withdrawn."

As Sierra Club California Energy/Climate Committee member Robert Freehling put it in an email to me: "How many times do we have to 'replace' Diablo Canyon with clean energy before the replacement crowd accepts that it has been replaced?"

In short: Where the electrons we use come from is where policy makers decide they will come from. Here's Mr. Freehling again, in 2016, when the closures of San Onofre and Diablo Canyon were both pending.

"The retiring nuclear power plants only cause modest and temporary fluctuations in the growth of preferred resources in comparison with the much larger scale of the state's clean energy programs," he said. "Renewable energy and energy efficiency programs add up to a total of 200,000 to 250,000 gigawatt-hours per year by 2030, compared to 18,000 gigawatt-hours lost from each of the nuclear plants. In other words, the state's existing clean energy programs are about six times larger than the two nuclear plants combined."

There's no Diablo in those details. Δ

Andrew Christie is the director of the Santa Lucia Chapter of the Sierra Club. Send comments through clanham@newtimesslo.com.

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