The California State Lands Commission took a vote today that will help clear the path for the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant to be closed within nine years and its electricity generation replaced with all non-polluting resources – the world’s first such plan that won’t include any fossil fuels like natural gas and their pollution.
The question before the commission was whether to grant a six-year extension of the subtidal leases—the permits that allow Pacific Gas & Electric to draw in billions of gallons of ocean water daily to keep the plant’s two reactors cool—to cover the time between their scheduled expiration in 2018 and 2019 and the beginning of the decommissioning process. The commission agreed on a 3-0 vote.
Under the Joint Proposal announced last week by PG&E, Friends of the Earth, NRDC, labor, and other environmental groups, California – the world’s sixth-largest economy – would end all nuclear generation within the state when the plant’s reactors shut down when their Nuclear Regulatory Commission licenses expire in 2024 and 2025, respectively. The power generated by Diablo Canyon, which is located near San Luis Obispo, would be replaced by no-emissions options: energy efficiency, renewable energy like wind and solar, demand response (compensating customers for altering their energy use at specific times), and energy storage.
As I told the commission today, NRDC backs the subtidal leases extension because of the huge benefits in the Joint Proposal:
- It is designed to help California meet our climate change goals, including that half of the electricity generated in the state must come from clean, renewable energy by 2030.
- It provides for an orderly and expeditious transition to replacing 100 percent of the power currently provided by Diablo Canyon with greenhouse gas-free options, led by energy efficiency and renewables like wind and solar.
- It will help to keep energy affordable for California utility customers. (We believe it will save them more than $1 billion over time.)
- And it provides a model for collaborative resolution of a complex energy issue that is fully consistent with California’s ambitious environmental and economic goals.
“A game changer”
NRDC advocated last December that the States Lands Commission defer its decision on PG&E’s request to extend its subtidal leases until the commission could determine the appropriate level of review required under the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). But as my colleague Elizabeth Murdock noted, "the Joint Proposal is a game changer" because by committing to close the Diablo Canyon facility completely, PG&E will ultimately end the plant’s harm to the ocean environment—and remove other environmental impacts associated with the plant, as well.
In addition, PG&E will need to submit a new and separate subtidal lease application to the State Lands Commission to allow use of the ocean-water intake and discharge structures for the period of time necessary to accommodate decommissioning activities following the facility’s closure. NRDC and PG&E expect the entire decommissioning process to be subject to full review under CEQA, which will allow for additional mitigation to address environmental impacts associated with shutting down and dismantling the plant.
In addition, the water intake rates – and their impact on marine life – will be reduced during decommissioning even more than PG&E would have been required to do under the State Water Board’s 2010 Once-Through-Cooling (OTC) Policy, which seeks to reduce the extreme impacts of California power plant OTC systems on marine life and habitats by directing plants to cut their ocean intake flow rates by roughly 93 percent. For Diablo Canyon to come into compliance, PG&E would have had to build close-cycle cooling towers by the end of 2024, which would have cost billions.
But upon complete shutdown, as was proposed last week, California’s last remaining nuclear plant will finally cease its ocean water intakes and the associated impacts altogether.