In 2016, after many years of negative public opinion concerning the operation of PG&E’s nuclear power plant designated Diablo Canyon, plans were announced to shutter the two units as their operating licenses expired – Unit 1 in 2024 and Unit 2 in 2025.
With the nation’s focus directed toward achieving zero-carbon emissions, nuclear energy has gained some support, even in California, where the goal is to achieve 100% clean energy by 2045.
Some of this reversal in the viewpoint on nuclear energy occurred during the summer of 2022, when an intense heat wave prompted a “state of emergency.” Californians were looking for ways to keep their lights on, charge their EVs, and operate their air conditioners. So much so, that the state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 846, which approved a $1.4 billion loan for PG&E, allowing Diablo Canyon to continue operations through October 31, 2029, for Unit 1 and October 31, 2030, for Unit 2.
Governor Newsom said passage of this bill was needed to bridge California’s transition to clean energy, help the state meet its clean energy targets since Diablo Canyon produces zero carbon emissions, and avoid power outages since Diablo Canyon is a reliable source of power when solar and wind are not available.
Another factor in the governor’s decision were his plans to bring offshore wind into California’s energy mix, most likely in Humboldt County and offshore from Morro Bay. This plan includes a power distribution center located at the site of a retired natural-gas and oil power plant that shut down in 2014. This center will be used to receive the power generated from offshore wind and distribute it to the grid.
The proposed wind project would be the first of its kind in the United States, featuring skyscraper-sized wind turbines roughly 20 miles from shore that float in the open ocean and not visible at Morro Bay or anywhere along the San Luis Obispo County coastline.
Recently, the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) granted an exemption that will allow Diablo Canyon to continue operation while it pursues an operating license extension for up to 20 years. This exemption was the first step needed for PG&E to pursue the operating license extension. And now PG&E must provide detailed information on their reactors’ condition for the NRC’s review. This review typically takes two years.
In a news release, the NRC said the exemption would “not present undue risk to the public health and safety and is consistent with the common defense and security.”
Although Governor Newsom says the plant, which provides 10% of the state’s electricity, should stay open until 2030 to help the state meet its clean energy targets and avoid power outages, California lawmakers have not yet indicated any intention of allowing Diablo Canyon to operate beyond the dates previously approved.