PG&E makes hard sell for Diablo Canyon renewal

Utility presses the case to community leaders of the nuclear power plant’s economic impacts

ppemberton@thetribunenews.comJune 28, 2013 

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

JOE JOHNSTON — jjohnston@thetribunenews.com Buy Photo

In an effort to garner public approval for its license renewal request, representatives from PG&E dined a roomful of local business and community leaders Friday as they described how the Diablo Canyon Power Plant pumps $920 million into the local economy.

One of the nuclear power plant’s biggest economic impacts, they say, is the nearly 1,500 Diablo employees, who earn an average annual salary of $136,000.

The plant also impacts other businesses, said senior vice president and chief nuclear officer Ed Halpin.

“We think it’s good to have that positive impact,” he told the group at the Madonna Inn in San Luis Obispo.   

The utility has applied to renew Diablo Canyon’s two reactor operating licenses, which will expire in 2024 and 2025, for 20 more years. While nuclear energy has been controversial — Diablo was once the site of major protests — Halpin insisted it is safe.

“Public safety is number one,” he said.

The plant is clearly an economic boon to the county, he said.

A study led by Cal Poly’s Orfalea College of Business calculated the total annual economic impact of the plant at $2 billion nationwide, $1.1 billion in California and $920 million in San Luis Obispo and northern Santa Barbara counties. The plant’s operation also generated $181 million in federal, state and local taxes in 2011, and it pays $25 million in property taxes annually that support local school districts, public safety and health programs.

Supervisor Adam Hill — the only supervisor in the state with a working nuclear plant in his district — said job growth is important to the quality of life here.

“Coming out of a very difficult recession, our county is poised to grow,” he said, noting the county has fared better than most in the state.

PG&E, he added, is critical to the county’s economic development.

To support its argument for renewals, PG&E assembled a 69-page book — “Economic Benefits of Diablo Canyon Power Plant” — chock-full of stats and color charts.

Not only does the plant employ hundreds of people, the study concluded, but those well-paid employees spend money that helps the economy in other ways, contributing to local real estate, retail and medical markets, among other things.

“That economic impact is profound,” Halpin said.

Nuclear power is widespread in Japan and France. And President Barack Obama has pushed for more nuclear energy in the U.S., citing it as a cleaner form of energy. But nuclear incidents worldwide have caused concern.

After the 2011 nuclear disaster in Japan, PG&E asked federal regulators to delay final implementation of the license-renewal process for Diablo Canyon while it conducts seismic studies here.

But ultimately, Halpin said, it makes sense to renew the licenses.

“I think it’s the right thing to do,” Halpin said.

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