Newsom offers hope for California’s last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon

Diablo Canyon plans of PG&E Corp. in California. (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune / Tribune News Service via Getty Images)

San Luis Obispo Grandstand | Forum News Service | Getty Images

California Governor Gavin Newsom is open to the idea of ​​keeping operations at the state’s last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, beyond its scheduled closure date in 2025, but not indefinitely.

In a conversation with the LA Times editorial board Thursday, Newsom said the state could get federal funding The Biden administration has made its bipartisan infrastructure law available keep uneconomic nuclear power plants open.

“The requirement is by May 19 to submit an application, otherwise you lose the opportunity to withdraw federal funds if you want to extend the life of that plant,” Newsom told the LA Times editorial board. “We would be remiss not to put it on the table as an option.”

The plant, located in San Luis Obispo County and managed by the utility company PG&E, activities are expected to cease within August 2025.

As Newsom opened the door to the idea of ​​keeping Diablo Canyon open in a conversation with the LA Times, his office underscored its desire to shut down the plant eventually.

“Over the long term, the Governor continues to support the closure of Diablo Canyon as we move to clean energy while ensuring the reliability of our power grid,” Erin Mellon, a spokesperson for the Newsom office, told CNBC.

Newsom’s primary concern is to keep the network running for California residents. And he has reason to be concerned. The California Independent System Operator “expects California to have more demand than supply during the kind of extreme events California has experienced in the past two summers,” Mellon told CNBC.

Whether or not Diablo Canyon will require federal funding is up to you PG&EMellone said.

PG&E said its priority was clean and reliable energy for California.

“The people at PG&E are proud of the role Diablo Canyon power plant plays in our state,” Suzanne Hosn, a spokesperson for PG&E, told CNBC. “We are always open to considering all options to ensure a continuous supply of safe, reliable and clean energy to our customers.”

To be eligible for any of the $ 6 billion in funding, a nuclear reactor must demonstrate that it is “at risk of ceasing operations due to economic factors,” according to one. procedural document issued by the Energy Department in February. PG&E is a joint stock company and its last quarterly deposit showed the company was profitable, but it didn’t break the finances for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

California politics, regulatory obstacles stood in the way

The shutdown debate was renewed when the state suffered a couple of ongoing blackouts in August 2020 during a heatwave that put a strain on the network.

Despite Newsom’s recent comments, Diablo Canyon is unlikely to have a second chance, according to David Victorprofessor at the University of California at San Diego.

“I have long supported the Diablo Canyon extension,” Victor told CNBC. “I still think it’s extremely difficult politically in California.”

Rich Powell, the organization’s chief executive for clean energy policy ClearPath, said Diablo Canyon’s fate depends on local California politics. “Diablo Canyon’s fate is a state policy issue, not a federal money issue.”

It would also require a rather quick turnaround on regulatory documents. “PG&E should be applying for a license extension and they haven’t done any of the basics,” Victor said.

Nuclear power plants must be licensed to operate from the country’s main regulatory agency, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). In 2018, PG&E withdrew the application that had been filed with the NRC to renew the plant’s license for another 20 years, NRC spokesperson Scott Burnell told CNBC.

To renew demand in Diablo, the NRC would need to see an updated environmental report, Burnell said, which includes, among other things, a water-cooling system overhaul for the nuclear reactor. “This takes time to develop,” Burnell said.

Keeping Diablo Canyon open wouldn’t help Newsom curry favor with those he can count on if he has more political ambitions.

“One of the many challenges facing the governor is that most of the left in American politics will be very much opposed to an extension of the license for Diablo,” Victor said. “And those are the people that the governor has to get him to support if he is to win the nomination for president.”

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