The decision on California’s last nuclear power plant could be postponed

The decision on California’s last nuclear power plant could be postponed

The decision on California’s last nuclear power plant could be postponed

California's last nuclear power plant (AP2008)

California’s last nuclear power plant (AP2008)

California lawmakers and Governor Gavin Newsom’s office are discussing a possible compromise on the future of the state’s last operational nuclear power plant that could allow operator Pacific Gas & Electric to seek federal funding for longer reactor life.

The interim proposal would amount to a legislative placeholder, keeping the idea of ​​an extended run for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in play by giving the legislator more time to consider earthquake safety, delayed maintenance and other issues at the site, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco.

The plan emerged during the chaotic final days of the two-year session of the legislature, which ends Wednesday at midnight.

On August 12, the Democratic governor proposed extending the plant’s operational life from five to 10 years beyond its scheduled closure by 2025, which he said was necessary to maintain reliable electricity supplies in the age of climate change.

But lawmakers complained that they were being targeted at the last minute with an extremely complex plan, which is expected to be printed as a bill by the end of Sunday for consideration in this session.

At a meeting of the state Senate Energy Committee on Thursday, Senator John Laird, a Santa Cruz Democrat whose district includes the plant, raised the possibility that the legislature would do what is “absolutely necessary” to allow Investor-owned PG&E to seek federal funds, while postponing other more controversial issues related to the future of reactors to next year, when the Legislature returns.

The Biden administration has established a $ 6 billion program to rescue nuclear power plants at risk of closure, but to apply by the September 6 deadline, Diablo Canyon needs state legislation to prove it has a path to continue. operations beyond the scheduled closure.

At the hearing, a senior Newsom administration official, Ana Matosantos, agreed that Laird’s proposal was a possibility to allow PG&E to seek the funds, among other options that could be considered. The state expects to know by January whether the reactors will qualify for a share of the funding, something some critics have doubted.

“There is an active conversation and at some point the language of the bills will circulate” about a possible compromise, Laird said in an interview after the hearing. With negotiations underway, it was not immediately clear what the final proposal would be like.

Newsom’s belated plan that included a $ 1.4 billion forgivable loan for PG&E also saw resistance from other Democratic lawmakers, who have proposed an alternative that would accelerate the development of solar and other renewable energy sources but would require the closure of the nuclear plant as planned.

Newsom’s proposal would attempt to roll out a complex 2016 agreement between environmentalists, plant workers’ unions and the utility to close the 10-year plant by 2025. The joint decision was also approved by California utility regulators. by the legislature and then Democratic Governor Jerry Brown.

In doing so, it restarted a long debate on seismic safety at the site, which has several seismic faults nearby, including one 650 yards (594 meters) from the reactors.

Environmental groups have described the move as a “dangerous” betrayal of the 2016 pact. Plant workers and pro-nuclear activists have advocated a protracted race for the plant, citing the need for its carbon-free power in a warm climate.

There is little time to find a compromise. PG&E chief executive Patricia “Patti” Poppe told investors in a call last month that state legislation is expected to be signed by Newsom by September to pave the way for the utility’s turnaround.

In an appearance in Los Angeles this week, Newsom expressed confidence that his proposal would be approved.

“I am confident we will land this,” he said.

PG&E is also expected to obtain a new operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate the plant beyond 2025. The utility is following two tracks: evaluating the possibility of a longer period, while continuing to plan the closure and decommissioning of the plant. as planned .

This week, PG&E Vice President Maureen Zawalick told the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel that if the state passed the necessary legislation, “we would take immediate action” to seek an extended license while filing for federal funding.

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