The U.S. Department of Energy conditionally awarded Pacific Gas & Electric $1.1 billion to extend the life of its 2.2 GW Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant on California’s Central Coast beyond mid-decade.
Environmentalists and a nuclear watchdog raised objections to the federal funding.
Environment California opposes the federal government throwing “PG&E more than a billion in taxpayer dollars for an outdated and potentially dangerous power source, when cleaner, safer and more affordable energy solutions exist,” said Research & Policy Center’s State Director Laura Deehan.
PG&E was deemed to qualify for federal funding under the DOE’s Civil Nuclear Credit Program with little public explanation. This $6 billion program’s stated aim is to keep nuclear plants online that are expected to close because of “economic reasons.” PG&E, a regulated utility, gets the costs of Diablo covered in its customers’ rates, unlike merchant plants.
The Alliance for Nuclear Energy is urging the state to reveal the conditions for approval. “We have yet to see what PG&E’s application asked for, and our attempts to secure the documents via the discovery process at the [California Public Utilities Commission] have been stonewalled by PG&E,” David Weisman, the Alliance’s legislative director, said.
U.S. Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm only stated that nuclear power “will help us meet President Biden’s climate goals, and with these historic investments in clean energy, we can protect these facilities and the communities they serve.”
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) said the federal funding would allow Diablo Canyon “to continue producing carbon-free energy until 2030, giving the state the time it needs to bring additional renewable energy sources online.”
The likely DOE funding follows a $1.4 billion forgivable loan approved by a state law, SB 846 signed in early September. The law directs that approved federal funding pay back the state loan to lower costs for customers if the plant’s operating license is extended by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission. Assuming the DOE funding gets the green light, state taxpayers will be saddled with the $300 million difference.
SB 846 also authorized the loan to keep the Diablo plant running five years beyond 2025, with mid-decade being the time the second license for one of its two 1.12 GW units expires.
Diablo’s extension is expected to “improve statewide energy system reliability and reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” PG&E stated.
However, one of the two units has been forced offline a handful of times because of problems in a major rebuild in the generating facility, which is separate from the nuclear housing. That malfunction has required PG&E to buy replacement power several times.
PG&E recently asked the CPUC to collect more than $178 million from its ratepayers, community choice aggregators and others for the 149 days its plant failed to operate between July 2020 and November 2021. The Alliance urged the CPUC Nov. 1 to reject PG&E’s request for recovery of its power replacement costs.
In addition, maintenance of the plant has been deferred because of the earlier expectation it would permanently close in 2025 and this has created risks, which were the focus of the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Commission’s Aug. 18 meeting. “It will be a lot of work” to get the necessary plant inspection program back in place for safe operations if there is an extension, Rick McWhorter, Safety Commission consultant, said.
Weisman said the Alliance will monitor the California Energy Commission and other state agencies backing the Diablo extension and state funding. That includes keeping tabs on:
- Whether there will be sufficient replacement power;
- What the schedule for bringing new renewables online is; and
- What needs to be done to keep Diablo running and how much will it cost?