The decision to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is a milestone, not only for our county, but also for the entire state of California. PG&E is making a significant commitment to increase renewables, such as solar and wind, in its portfolio.
That’s commendable; this is a long-range direction we must take if we’re to cut greenhouse gas emissions. We look forward to learning more about PG&E’s plans as it moves into this new era of energy generation.
For the time being, though, San Luis Obispo County must focus on a more immediate issue: what this means to our local economy.
While PG&E’s decision to close Diablo Canyon in 2025 doesn’t come as a complete surprise — there have been rumblings about it for months — it nonetheless makes things real.
For that, we thank PG&E. It could have delayed the announcement for several more months, or even years, forcing local leaders to continue to base budgetary decisions on rumors and speculation.
Now we know. We have nine years to prepare. That may seem like a long time. It’s not.
No matter how you feel about nuclear power, there is no denying Diablo Canyon has been an economic dynamo for San Luis Obispo County.
Michael Manchak, president of the Economic Vitality Corp., put it like this: “We have some time, but the time will go quickly.”
He’s right. We can’t afford to put off planning for another year or two. We have to start now, in earnest.
Because no matter how you feel about nuclear power, there is no denying Diablo Canyon has been an economic dynamo for San Luis Obispo County. PG&E is the county’s largest single private employer; it has an economic impact of $1 billion per year; and it’s a source of tax revenue for local government agencies, especially the San Luis Coastal Unified School District.
It’s not going to be easy to replace the tax revenue and the high-paying jobs (average wage, $157,000 in 2014) provided by Diablo Canyon, but we’re going to have to begin somewhere.
For starters, we need to take a look at other communities that have dealt with similar losses and figure out what worked and what didn’t. We also should get behind Sen. Bill Monning’s bill that calls for a study on the effects of Diablo Canyon’s closure. We were skeptical about the legislation when it was first announced — do we really need another economic study? — but given the circumstances, we believe it makes sense to take a hard look at exactly what closure will mean for the community.
Many of those losses will be impossible to tally. Diablo Canyon employees are more than figures on a spreadsheet. They are friends and neighbors, they are volunteers, they are community leaders.
PG&E plans to dedicate $350 million to employee severance, retraining and redeployment programs. Ideally, as many employees as possible will be given opportunities to continue working for PG&E, in plant decommissioning or at other facilities owned by the company.
PG&E also plans to allocate $50 million to reimburse local government for loss of property tax revenue.
But let’s not kid ourselves. That’s not going to make up for the financial blow.
Though we can’t give in to negativism, we cannot afford to minimize the financial consequences of closure.
Business and local leaders must redouble efforts to create an environment that supports the expansion and creation of companies that provide high-paying, head-of-household jobs.