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California may rescue its last nuclear power plant — and give PG&E $millions to do it

CalMatters, BY NADIA LOPEZ  JUNE 30, 2022,

The California Legislature has just taken the first step toward possibly extending the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the state’s last nuclear facility, past its scheduled closure.  

The energy trailer bill negotiated by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and approved by lawmakers late Wednesday allocates a reserve fund of up to $75 million to the state Department of Water Resources to prolong the operation of aging power plants scheduled to close. Diablo Canyon, on the coast near San Luis Obispo, has been preparing to shut down for more than five years.The California Legislature has just taken the first step toward possibly extending the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, the state’s last nuclear facility, past its scheduled closure.  

The energy trailer bill negotiated by Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration and approved by lawmakers late Wednesday allocates a reserve fund of up to $75 million to the state Department of Water Resources to prolong the operation of aging power plants scheduled to close. Diablo Canyon, on the coast near San Luis Obispo, has been preparing to shut down for more than five years.

The funding is part of a contentious bill that aims to address a couple of Newsom’s most pressing concerns — maintaining the reliability of the state’s increasingly strained power grid, and avoiding the politically damaging prospect of brown-outs or blackouts. 

Should the Newsom administration choose to extend the life of the nuclear plant, the funding would allow that — although the actual cost to keep the 37-year-old facility owned by Pacific Gas and Electric is not known. Newsom’s office and the Department of Water Resources did not immediately respond to multiple requests for comment. Asked for an estimate, PG&E spokesperson Lynsey Paulo did not provide one.

Even if only a contingency fund, the optics of sending millions of state and federal dollars to the state’s largest utility —  which has a recent record of responsibility for deadly wildfires and state “bailouts” — are politically problematic

…………………….. While it’s true that the energy bill doesn’t itself authorize the extension of the plant’s life, it does provide the money should state leaders decide to do so. Such a move would require “subsequent legislation and review and approval by state, local and federal regulatory entities,” said Lindsay Buckley, a spokesperson for the California Energy Commission.

……….   “The governor requested this language, not as a decision to move ahead with continuing operation of Diablo Canyon, but to protect the option to do that if a future decision is made,” said state Sen. John Laird, a Democrat from San Luis Obispo.

He also said the public should have a chance to weigh in before a final decision is made on the plant’s fate.

“The shuttering of Diablo Canyon has been years in the making, with hundreds of millions of dollars already committed for decommissioning,” Laird said. “Along with the residents of the Central Coast, I’m eager to see what the governor and federal officials have in mind.”…………….

Regardless of the future decision about the lifespan of the nuclear plant, nothing can happen without federal and state funding.

The Biden Administration created a $6 billion Civil Nuclear Credit Program to rescue financially struggling nuclear power plants, and Newsom has said he would consider applying for federal funding to keep Diablo Canyon open past its scheduled 2025 closure……………………………..

changing the federal rules to accommodate PG&E is a bad idea to longtime critics of nuclear power in California. To keep the plant operating, PG&E would have to seismically retrofit the plant and make heavy investments in cooling system and maintenance upgrades — costs that would outweigh the benefits, the anti-nuclear nonprofit San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace wrote in a  letter sent to the Energy Department on Monday.

Linda Seeley, a San Luis Obispo resident and longtime member of the group, said extending Diablo Canyon will cause a “myriad of problems.”

…………………  , opponents cite safety threats and problems storing radioactive waste. And the prospect of keeping it open involves numerous technical, financial and logistical challenges. PG&E would need to reapply for licensing with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission, which issues the licenses to keep the plant operating, and would need to receive state and federal approval to do so. It would also have to address aging infrastructure problems at the site. ………………… https://calmatters.org/environment/2022/06/california-nuclear-power-pge-diablo-canyon/ 

July 2, 2022 - Posted by | politics, USA

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