Diablo Canyon goes from nuclear to renewable

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An agreement between PG&E and environmental and labor organizations seeks to replace the Diablo Canyon nuclear reactors with greenhouse gas-free renewable energy and storage resources.

California’s last nuclear power plant is set to shut down within he next decade. The decision to close the facility in San Luis Obispo County was announced June 21 by Pacific Gas & Electric Co. 

The environmental group Friends of the Earth helped draft the agreement. It was created in 1969 primarily to stop this power plant from being built, and will now be largely involved in the transition from nuclear to renewable energy production.

KCRW talked to senior strategic advisor of Friends of the Earth, Damon Moglen.

KCRW: Tell us about the start of FOE.

Moglen: PG&E was talking about building nuclear plants all up and down the California coast. The decision to build Diablo Canyon near San Luis Obispo was a very controversial one. David Brower, the original founder of FOE, broke away from the Sierra Club (he was the executive director) because he opposed an agreement that would allow the plant to be built at the current site. From there on out, FOE has worked with many organizations to fight the plant.

Many residents in San Luis Obispo county are worried this closure will have a negative impact on the local economy. For example, the San Luis Coastal Unified School District receives about $9.5 million a year (11 percent of the district’s total revenue) in property tax revenue from PG&E. What would you say to those worried about the economic hit to the local economy?

This agreement is going to propose ways that PG&E would be able to retain workers. I think that’s going to have a big impact on keeping the workforce and keeping the economy strong. But it is indeed the case that when the plant closes down, there’s going to be an impact on the tax base, and in turn PG&E is pledging to provide $50 million of tax support over the next years to cushion the impact. It goes without saying that when plants close down, it does have impacts on the local workforce and local economy. This is an effort to try to ease those impacts, but they’re going to be there.

Within the agreement is a plan to replace the nuclear reactors with greenhouse gas-free renewable energy? What will that transition look like?

First, our proposal would put a great deal of efficiency into place, which will drive down the demand. Then, we begin to trigger in renewable energy, energy storage and efficiency. Finally, in the mid 2020s when we have a clearer sense of what kind of energy demands there are going to be and where they’ll be, we’ll make sure we’re replacing all the necessary energy from Diablo with renewable, efficiency and energy storage. So it’s a process, and because there are radical changes in the California Energy scene there are a lot of unknowns here. That’s going to be make it both interesting and challenging to create a program that’s going to reflect the needs that are true on the ground and of ratepayers. The fact is the grid is going to be different in the future than it is now, and Diablo doesn’t fit.