Guest essay by Eric Worrall
Green are worried they are about to get duped once again into facilitating a massive increase in Californian CO2 emissions.
Diablo Canyon to Close Without Clean Energy Guarantees
The plan for closing California’s last nuclear plant slashes a proposed budget for worker retraining—and has “no explicit provision” for zero-carbon replacements.
JEFF ST. JOHN JANUARY 11, 2018
California regulators have approved a plan to close Diablo Canyon, the state’s last nuclear power plant, that has environmental and clean energy groups, local communities, and even utility Pacific Gas & Electric crying foul over the results.
On Wednesday, the California Public Utilities Commission approved a plan for PG&E to close the Central Coast plant by 2025, and recover $241.2 million in costs to pay for it, mostly expenditures associated with paying employees to run the plant through its closure.
The proposed decision, which was roundly decried by community groups, clean energy advocates and PG&E alike, also cut a proposal for a 53 percent increase in PG&E energy efficiency programs. Those programs are expected to make up a huge portion of the resources being sought to replace Diablo Canyon.
Finally, it fails to mention a key promise of last summer’s compromise — replacing the 2.3 gigawatts of always-on power that Diablo Canyon provides the regional and statewide grid with zero-carbon resources. Since nuclear power doesn’t emit carbon, adding anything else would add to the state’s greenhouse gas burden.
But according to Ralph Cavanagh, NRDC’s energy program co-director, the order approved by the CPUC makes “no explicit provision” for this promise in its text. Instead, it relies on a statement of “intent of the Commission to avoid any increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the closure of Diablo Canyon,” which lacks the force of a guarantee.
Clean energy advocates were hoping that the Diablo Canyon closure plan would avoid the same outcome as Southern California’s San Onofre nuclear power plant, when it was forced to close in 2013. In that case, the CPUC did instruct Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to seek out a large portion of the replacement from zero-carbon resources, including hundreds of megawatts of distributed energy. But it also allowed both utilities to add hundreds more megawatts of natural-gas-fired power plants, angering clean energy advocates who had pushed for more zero-carbon alternatives.
The reason nobody is providing guarantees about CO2 seems obvious; in my opinion there is likely no intention of preventing a rise in CO2 emissions. Even in California it would be impractically expensive, maybe impossible to replace 2.3GW of dispatchable zero carbon nuclear power with an equivalent installation of unreliables.
Despite the noise and bluster, I suspect Californian energy authorities are confident greens will accept the rise in CO2 emissions which occurs after the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant is closed, just as they accepted a rise in CO2 emissions after the San Onofre nuclear plant was closed.