It’s been less than three months since Pacific Gas & Electric, along with an assortment of groups including environmentalists, announced its intention to shut down the last remaining nuclear power plant in California — Diablo Canyon.
Now the protests have been filed.
And the groups complaining range from backers of nuclear energy who want to keep the plant open to green activists eager to see Diablo’s demise but who don’t like some of the particulars of the joint proposal PG&E has filed with the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC).
“Nuclear power is a hotly debated issue and many people have very strong views about what should or should not be done,” said Matthew Freedman, attorney for the The Utility Reform Network (TURN), a ratepayers’ advocacy group. “So I’m not in the least bit surprised that there are many groups that want to be involved in the case.”
Last Thursday was the last day interested parties could file protests with the CPUC regarding the particulars of the joint proposal that calls for Diablo Canyon completely halting operations by 2025.
Under the plan, the massive amount of electricity generated by the plant — some 18,000 gigawatt hours per year, which account for about 9 percent of in-state generation — would be replaced by a combination of more renewable energy sources and bigger contributions from energy efficiency and energy storage.
PG&E also anticipates its power burden will decrease over time as more of its customers switch from a big utility model to community-choice aggregation, which allows local governments to pool their electricity load.
TURN was one of a number of groups filing protests and responses to the CPUC even though they agreed with PG&E’s joint proposal to get rid of Diablo.
“We think the plant is expensive to operate and poses ongoing risks to customers and to the environment,” said Freedman. “We do care about the environment.”
Citing the quick shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, TURN said in its protest that “a lack of planning” led to an increase in natural gas-fired sources of power.
Women’s Energy Matters, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, Friends of the Earth, the Green Power Institute and the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies were among the groups that filed paperwork in the case even though they each approve shutting down Diablo.
The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility was even one of the environmental groups that signed the PG&E joint proposal in June.
But the alliance was joined by groups such as TURN that complained about PG&E’s request for “cost recovery” of $52.7 million stemming from license renewal costs that would be passed on ratepayers over the space of eight years.
“They never got approval from the CPUC to spend that money,” said Freedman. “They spent this money at their own discretion on a license renewal project they later decided to abandon. Customers shouldn’t be forced to pay for it.”
PG&E officials say that with the exception of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, all the groups signing onto the joint proposal “support PG&E’s request for full recovery of license renewal costs.”
“The members of this diverse coalition believe this joint proposal represents the most appropriate and responsible path forward,” said PG&E spokesman Blair Jones in an email. “It supports the state’s energy vision and ensures the orderly replacement of nuclear power with other (greenhouse gas)-free resources while supporting employees and the community.”
Common complaints from environmental groups centered on making sure the measures to replace the electricity lost in closing down Diablo would not lead to an increase in greenhouse gas emissions and wanting more specifics on what energy sources would be implemented.
For example, the Green Power Institute wants to exclude large hydro-power and pumped hydro storage because of land use, habitat impacts and production declines in recent years due to drought.
“There is no reason in principle that other forms of storage can’t be used to integrate renewables even at very high penetrations,” the Green Power Institute wrote in the protest it filed.
On the opposite end of the debate, Californians for Green Nuclear Power (CGNP) listed multiple reasons protesting Diablo’s potential death sentence, calling the plant essential for inexpensive, emissions-free power for PG&E customers.
The group accused the utility of “failing its fiduciary duty,” predicted replacing the lost electricity “will be extremely costly” and even said if the investor-owned utility didn’t want to keep the plant, it should look for a group to buy the plant and run it.
“You have a plant that’s worth, probably, a couple of billion dollars on the open market from companies like Exelon Nuclear,” said Gene Nelson, CGNP’s co-government liaison. “And to say, ‘we don’t want to play this game anymore, we’re tired of the annoyances so we’re just going to shut it down,’ they’re basically reducing the value from something like $2 billion to zero.”
Earlier this month, another group that wants to keep Diablo online took a different tack.
Berkeley-based Environmental Progress filed a motion urging the CPUC to hand over the fate of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant to the state Legislature, saying the commission is too rife with controversies to pass judgment on PG&E’s joint proposal.
Environmental Progress also filed its own protest last Thursday.
“We are working with legislators to take action and clean up the CPUC,” the group’s president, Michael Shellenberger, said. “At the same time we are going to participate in these proceedings. Even though we don’t think the venue is appropriate we’re going to use every tool in our disposal to raise the alarm among California ratepayers that this is a proposal that will raise electricity rates … and increase pollution.”
Whether they want to close Diablo or keep it open, a number of the groups have asked the CPUC to adopt a slower schedule for discussion of the PG&E joint proposal.
PG&E has proposed starting intervenor testimony by the end of October, with a final decision by June 2017.
Three groups filing protests last week offered their own suggested timeline that would stretch the process by one to three months.
“I’m anticipating this thing may take a long time and could end up being litigated,” said CNGP’s Nelson.