At this time last year, we were hearing ostensibly nothing about the Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP), and its fate seemed all but sealed. However, in recent weeks, the future of Diablo Canyon has been in the news quite a bit, sparked by renewed interest in extending operations at DCPP. What changed?
The seemingly sudden reinterest in extending operations at DCPP is due broadly to the law of supply and demand. In California, we have a much higher demand for electricity than the available supply during peak load periods expected in August, September and early October. If there is a regional heat wave during these months, the supply becomes critically low.
IBEW 1245 has been alerting state officials, including the Governor’s Office, of the power shortfall problem for years. Brief rolling blackouts in August 2020 provided a clear warning to the state. Unlike previous administrations, Governor Newsom understood the root cause of the problem – State agencies charged with ensuring adequate electricity supply to meet demand failed to do so. He challenged the leadership of those agencies to fix the problem, but unfortunately, the problem cannot be fixed overnight. Errors in procurement, coordination between these agencies, and lack of commitment to ensure availability of a 15% “spinning reserve,” mean California does not have adequate electrical supply for this or the next two summers. In other words, even with DCPP in service, California faces potentially severe electricity shortages. As a result, decommissioning 2.2 GW of power at DCPP, without sufficient replacement clean energy resources (as required under California law and the corresponding CPUC decision), would make any already-tough situation much, much worse.
The first indication we had that 1245’s efforts to sound the alarm were succeeding came last year, when Governor Newsom issued a proclamation for a State of Emergency for electricity supply. This action clearly indicated the high level of concern in the Governor’s Office over the potential of energy shortfalls. It also demonstrated the strong commitment Governor Newsom has in avoiding future blackouts, considering the complete collapse of the Texas grid, and resulting widespread harm, that occurred in February 2021. And it worked: California avoided rolling blackouts last summer. But the predictions for this year and beyond are more dire, and in May, Newsom proposed a 5000MW, $5.2B ‘reliability reserve’.
Since then, we have had meetings with key Newsom Administration officials, legislative leaders, and business interests to discuss the possibility of extending operations at DCPP. We’ve been meeting with any and all individuals, groups and organizations which support extending operations of Diablo Canyon. This includes local and state elected officials, local and national pro-nuclear groups, key officials at the Federal Department of Energy, and business entities interested in increasing the amount of nuclear power generation throughout the United States. Nationally, we learned the pro-nuclear energy community views extending operations at Diablo Canyon as an informal referendum on nuclear power, and has lined up in support of continued DCPP operations.
Local 1245 has seen momentum to ‘Keep Diablo Canyon Open’ grow significantly since the issuance of a November 2021 report by MIT and Stanford on the usefulness of DCPP, as well as the Q&A from MIT which zeroes in on the benefits of extending DCPP. Additionally, recent polling shows younger people in the United States view nuclear power in a positive light, as a solution to climate change. More and more people are recognizing the need to keep DCPP operating in order for California to meet its many clean energy goals, and Local 1245 recently received incredibly good news in that the Department of Energy changed the rules concerning a newly created Civil Nuclear Credit Program to allow PG&E to apply for funding to help keep defray unanticipated expenses and allow DCPP to continue operations into the future.
Despite all this positive news on Diablo Canyon, the obstacles to extending DCPP operations beyond the current 2025 shutdown are numerous and will be hard to overcome.
First, we need legislation to change California law to facilitate continued Diablo Canyon operations. Local 1245 lobbied hard for passage of a recent energy budget trailer bill which authorized the California Department of Water Resources to fund and enter into contracts with existing power generation facilities scheduled to be closed. This is valuable, but does not specifically address the circumstances facing Diablo Canyon, which include previous legislation confirming DCPP units will be decommissioned at the end of existing NRC licenses. As a result, numerous state agencies have taken similar actions.
Changing the position of these powerful public agencies will be exceedingly difficult:
United States Nuclear Regulatory Commission – The NRC granted licenses to PG&E for DCPP Unit 1 and Unit 2 to operate. In 2009, PG&E began the process to re-license the Units. Local 1245 collaborated with the Company on the applications for license renewals and supported the effort in a variety of forums. In June 2011, the NRC announced it would delay consideration of the environmental portion of PG&E’s application but that it had completed the safety portion. PG&E subsequently withdrew its renewal applications and now must formally reapply. This will be a lengthy process, but once PG&E refiles its applications and they are under consideration by NRC, then PG&E can continue to operate Units 1 and 2 until the applications are approved or rejected.
California Public Utilities Commission – The CPUC has unfettered regulatory authority over the Investor-Owned Utilities (IOUs) providing electric service to Californians. It is enshrined in the California Constitution, and as such, the CPUC has greater authority than most state agencies (in the past, it has routinely disregarded even legislative directives). The CPUC regulates all aspects of electric generation and distribution by PG&E, as well as most elements of PG&E transmission services. The CPUC was also responsible for replacing Diablo Canyon power with clean energy resources, and has failed to do so. PG&E will need to apply for and receive explicit CPUC approval to extend Diablo Canyon operations beyond the current decommissioning dates, and the CPUC will have to approve any changes in use or operations at DCPP.
State Lands Commission – This agency has authority over two leases signed with PG&E to allow the company to access water to cool DCPP Units 1 and 2. Specifically, the leases allow PG&E to use California state land to install and operate water intake and outflow on coastal property near the DCPP plant. The current extension of these two leases now coincides with the expiration of NRC licenses granted to PG&E to operate DCPP Unit 1 until November of 2024 and DCPP Unit 2 until August of 2025. This action was based on the Joint Proposal agreement to decommission these units upon their NRC license expiration dates. PG&E will have to apply for and be granted lease extensions for each of these leases to continue operations.
California Coastal Commission – The Coastal Commission has broad authority over usage of coast and coastal waters. While the lease PG&E has for water access is with the California Lands Commission, this type of use is regulated by the Coastal Commission. In addition, when PG&E desired to map the seismic status of faults offshore using technology not available when the plant was built, the Coastal Commission blocked this action as overly harmful to the marine environment. This action also put the Coastal Commission in conflict with the NRC, who had indicated interest in seismic information for its safety review. PG&E needs approval of the Coastal Commission for a variety of actions related to continued operations.
However, there are other agencies that we believe may be supportive in this endeavor, based on past statements and decisions:
California Independent System Operator – The CAISO is responsible for ensuring the safe and reliable transmission of electricity on the power grid in much of California and a small portion of Nevada. It is a public-private entity that is to act impartially and ensure there is adequate supplies of electricity 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. CAISO has expressed concern numerous times over the last 3-4 years that California has inadequate supplies of electricity for peak load days, particularly when there is a heat wave impacting all Western states. After California experienced rolling blackouts California in August 2020, CAISO was extremely critical of the CPUC because they had not permitted IOUs to obtain additional supply, and failed to force Community Choice Aggregator agencies to meet their obligations through full resource adequacy procurement requirements. We expect the CAISO to be an ally in this fight.
California Energy Commission – The CEC’s research, programs and policies help determine how California will reach its goals for 100% clean energy and carbon neutrality by 2045. It’s the CEC responsibility to track electricity production and supply in California. Along with CAISO, the CEC issued a warning regarding the closure of DCPP and likelihood of energy shortages on peak load days in the future.
Federal Department of Energy – The DOE is responsible for ensuring the security and prosperity of the United States by addressing its energy, environmental and nuclear challenges through transformative science and technology solutions. The DOE includes the Office of Nuclear Energy, which is tasked with monitoring and assisting plants like Diablo Canyon. They administer the Civil Nuclear Credit Program and have been supportive of nuclear plants under threat of closure to apply for funding. They just changed the rules to allow PG&E to file for these funds. But PG&E must apply to receive funding under CNCP.
This overview is just a brief snapshot into what is sure to be a complex and challenging process, but Local 1245 is committed to making sure that our voice is heard every step of the way. We have never wavered in our commitment to prolonging the life of Diablo Canyon, and we intend to use this opportunity to once again showcase the safe, clean, local and readily available nuclear energy provided by our hard-working members at Diablo Canyon.
–Bob Dean, IBEW 1245 Business Manager and Hunter Stern, IBEW 1245 Assistant Business Manager