Gov. Newsom proposes keeping Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open until 2035

(Joe Johnston/The Tribune (of San Luis Obispo)

Gov. Gavin Newsom has put forward a plan to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant operating until 2035, 10 years beyond it’s current planned closure.

A last-minute proposal from Gov. Gavin Newsom could keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant open through 2035, a decade beyond its current closure date — in part by giving owner Pacific Gas & Electric Co. a $1.4-billion forgivable loan.

The proposal is part of draft legislative language distributed to state lawmakers late Thursday night. The bill, which has yet to be introduced in the Legislature, would also exempt the Diablo Canyon extension from the California Environmental Quality Act and several other environmental rules that nuclear opponents might otherwise use to challenge the extension.

Regular readers know that Gov. Newsom first discussed the possibility of keeping the plant open back in April. The plant has been scheduled to shut down in 2025 since an agreement was reached six years ago. Newsom began to have second thoughts in light of the potential for blackouts to hit the state this summer and in future years. The LA Times is remarkably blunt about what is driving Newsom’s actions.

Diablo Canyon is California’s single largest power source. Officials are worried that without it, the state could have trouble keeping the lights on — and air conditioners running — during intense summer heat waves…

Since PG&E agreed to exit the atomic energy business, the growing urgency of the climate crisis — which has led to worsening wildfires, heat waves, storms and droughts — has led some environmentalists to reconsider nuclear-plant closures.

It’s an especially pressing question in California, which has had trouble supplying enough power to keep the lights on during hot summer evenings after the sun goes down, when solar panels stop generating. Parts of the state suffered brief rolling blackouts over two nights in August 2020. There have been several close calls since then…

“The grid is vulnerable right now,” said Neil Millar, a vice president at the California Independent System Operator.

The concerns about rolling blackouts this summer were revealed in early May, about a week after Newsom floated the idea of keeping Diablo Canyon in operation. That warning from state energy officials predicted that under “extreme conditions” up to 4 million people could lose power.

In an online briefing with reporters, the officials forecast a potential shortfall of 1,700 megawatts this year, a number that could go as high as 5,000 MW if the grid is taxed by multiple challenges that reduce available power while sending demand soaring, state officials said during an online briefing with reporters.

Supply gaps along those lines could leave between 1 million and 4 million people without power. Outages will only happen under extreme conditions, officials cautioned, and will depend in part on the success of conservation measure.

The reason we haven’t seen blackouts yet this year like the ones we had in 2020 is that, at least so far, California hasn’t had any major heat waves this summer, which is quite a change from last year.

As much of the nation suffers staggeringly high temperatures, California in general seems to be enjoying something of a reprieve from the heat, at least the extreme kind. (Some have even attributed this year’s milder fire season to the less intense summer.)

In Los Angeles, for example, the temperature on Friday is expected to peak at a balmy 82 degrees, while Portland is predicted to reach 103 degrees as a brutal heat wave engulfs the Pacific Northwest...

In 2021, the summer — defined by meteorologists as the three-month period of June, July and August — was the warmest on record in the state (and nationwide). In July that year, Death Valley’s daily average temperature was the highest ever recorded on the planet.

It seems California has been lucky this year as there have been heat waves in other parts of the country and in Europe. But luck like that probably won’t last and Gov. Newsom knows he can’t afford to have the lights go out if he wants to run for president in two years. Regardless of his personal reasons for keeping Diablo Canyon open, it just doesn’t make any sense to cut off 6% of the state’s power generation that’s needed to keep the lights on when the sun goes down.

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