CA - Power struggle: PG&E, state officials work on Diablo's future while community benefits of offshore wind energy are up in the air
The Central Coast is on the cusp of big changes regarding green energy production, but the transition will take time. Currently, state, local, and PG&E officials are discussing how to keep energy flowing from Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
Faced with the challenge of energy shortfalls amid climate change, state lawmakers released funding to keep Diablo open, though it was set to be decommissioned soon. Assistant Editor Peter Johnson has the details about Diablo's future. Meanwhile, offshore wind energy lease sales wrapped up on Dec. 6, leaving questions in their wake about impacts on Morro Bay stakeholders, including local fishermen. Staff Writer Shwetha Sundarrajan spoke with energy groups and fishermen for the story.
PG&E, state agencies look ahead to busy 2023 for determining future of Diablo Canyon Power Plant
The Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel's final meeting of 2022 focused on a topic that contradicts its title: the recent push to possibly extend operations at the Avila Beach-based nuclear power plant.
PG&E and state officials joined the local citizen panel on Dec. 14 to provide an update on what's transpired since the passage of Senate Bill 846—which unlocked $1.4 billion in state funding to help PG&E try to relicense Diablo and operate it through 2030—and what's in store next year.
The bottom line, according to the officials, is that the path ahead for Diablo is complex and compressed, with many key milestones and decisions taking place over the next 12 to 24 months.
Tom Jones, a senior director with PG&E, told the panel that the company continues to prepare for two outcomes: one in which Diablo is decommissioned as planned in 2024 and 2025, and one in which it operates at least five more years under new licenses.
"We'll know one of them to be true two years from now," Jones said. "We're maintaining both functions because while it's been portrayed at times that SB 846 is a done deal and the plant's going to run, we can't certainly take for granted that's going to occur."
Since the legislation passed in September, PG&E applied for and received a $1.1 billion grant from the U.S. Department of Energy, which will help backfill the state subsidies, and began engaging with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on a path forward to relicense Diablo's two reactors.
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The plant's current licenses are set to expire in 2024 and 2025, as PG&E withdrew its renewal applications in 2018 when it decided instead to close the plant. Now, the company is hoping the NRC will reconsider that original application—in a condensed timeframe.
"In short, we've asked for two things [of the NRC]," Jones said. "To reinstate our previous [relicensing] application we submitted in 2009. And we've asked for a timeliness exemption."
When pressed by decommissioning panel member Kara Woodruff about the length of the license that PG&E seeks, the utility confirmed that it will be applying for full 20-year licenses. But the recent state law only authorizes a five-year extension for Diablo.
"We would be submitting a 20-year one, but we have to also meet the state of California's regulations, and that's for five years," said Maureen Zawalick, vice president of decommissioning and technical services at PG&E. "The state holds the keys to Diablo Canyon."
To prepare for the potential extension, Jones and Zawalick said that PG&E is using the first $600 million of state funding from SB 846 to purchase more uranium and dry cask storage—items with "long lead times" that are crucial to Diablo's operation.
"The window was literally about to close. We didn't have fuel beyond its current license," Jones said.
PG&E has also assembled a 40-person license renewal team and plans to work with the California Public Utilities Commission next year on a new employee retention program for plant workers, according to Jones.
As PG&E gears up for 2023, so does the Diablo Canyon Independent Safety Committee, a three-person board tasked with reviewing and making recommendations on plant safety.
Longtime committee member Robert Budnitz spoke to the decommissioning panel about its role overseeing seismic safety and maintenance at the plant. Budnitz spoke highly of a "comprehensive" seismic study completed in 2015 for Diablo and noted that SB 846 requires an updated seismic analysis.