by James Poulos | June 27, 2016 10:47 am
California regulators have made preparations to close Diablo Canyon, the state’s last remaining nuclear power plant, in a move quickly characterized as a turning point in the nation’s approach to energy production and use.
“Pacific Gas and Electric Co. announced Tuesday it will close California’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon, in 2025, ending atomic energy’s more than a half-century history in the state,” noted the San Francisco Chronicle. “The move will shutter a plant whose construction on a seaside cliff surrounded by earthquake faults helped create the antinuclear movement. And yet, some conservationists have fought to keep Diablo Canyon open, arguing California needed its output of greenhouse gas-free electricity to not exacerbate global warming.”
In fact, nuclear power has staked a claim to greater efficiencies than other forms of energy such as wind, driving critics of prevailing environmentalist policies to cast Diablo Canyon as a relatively smarter way to meet anti-carbon objectives hard to dislodge from Sacramento. “Nuclear energy is a huge source of clean power that doesn’t release the greenhouse gases that are changing the climate,” according to the U-T San Diego editorial board. “And unlike the San Onofre plant in San Diego County that closed in 2012 because of severe problems with steam generators and more, the Diablo Canyon plant appeared to be functioning well.”
Key players in the state’s environmentalist movement, however, determined that nuclear power represented more of an obstacle to their agenda than a source of potential allies. The proposal to shut down Diablo Canyon, “part of an agreement with environmental and labor groups, is intended to help meet California’s aggressive clean energy goals, which have already transformed the power mix with a large and growing renewable energy fleet at a time of slowing electric demand,” the New York Times reported. “It also comes after years of public pressure to close the plant, near San Luis Obispo, because of safety concerns over its location, near several fault lines, and its use of ocean water for cooling.”
Final approval for the change must come through the California Public Utilities Commission. “The agreement calls for PG&E to withdraw its pending application to extend the licenses for another 20 years, and to replace the plant’s 2,240-megawatt capacity with a combination of efficiency improvements and renewable sources,” as the Los Angeles Times’ Michael Hitzlik noted. “Among the deal’s unique features are provisions for $350 million in retention, severance and retraining payments to existing workers and $49.5 million in payments to San Luis Obispo County as compensation for the loss of a major source of employment and taxes.”
As legacy players in the public and private sector have haggled over the costs and benefits of nuclear power production, innovators have pushed the conversation in a different direction. Although advances in the efficiency of solar power production and retention have become something of a political football in recent years, with Democrats at the state and federal level bent on subsidizing businesses geared toward solar and other nontraditional power sources, alternate-energy entrepreneur Elon Musk has forged ahead with what appear to be plans for a dramatic new play in the space.
With his Tesla company’s bid to acquire SolarCity, as Fortune suggested, “a fully vertically integrated energy company—from energy generation to installation to storage to application—could create a massive Elon Musk Energy Empire. It would be a company that generates power from the sun, stores energy in batteries, and uses those batteries to power cars and buildings.”
“And it would all be provided by a brand that consumers increasingly know and are excited about. Tesla’s brand is starting to be so powerful that it’s as if Apple decided it wanted to be a full-fledged power company (oh wait, it’s kind of doing that). But never before has the energy industry had such a player that so was so attractive to consumers and also so willing to act disruptively.”
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