On June 21, many in the community were shocked when PG&E announced the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. As part of the announcement, PG&E unveiled a joint proposal crafted with seven labor and environmental organizations, which is intended to serve as the framework for closure of the plant. The processes surrounding the closure of a nuclear power plant are complex and the county of San Luis Obispo spent the past few months analyzing the proposal and meeting with PG&E, San Luis Coastal Unified School District, the Economic Vitality Corporation, local cities, local legislators and other community stakeholders to identify the local impacts.
The joint proposal allows for a measured approach to closure over the next nine years. This approach is preferred over an immediate shutdown, which has occurred elsewhere.
The plan will allow PG&E time to replace the energy generated by Diablo Canyon with renewable energy in a phased manner. The plan also includes an extensive employee retention and retraining program, which the county supports, as the continued safe operation of the plant is paramount.
The county’s interests and involvement in this issue relate directly to the safety, health and economic security of the people and communities of San Luis Obispo County. It is from this perspective that the county believes the following issues must be appropriately addressed.
First and foremost, safety risks will exist for as long as radioactive material remains in this county. It is imperative that current levels of emergency management infrastructure remain in place until the nuclear reactors are fully decommissioned and all nuclear waste is removed from the site. Approximately $4.6 million is spent annually for emergency management infrastructure and training. This funding should continue to ensure that all emergency management activities and infrastructure meet current and emerging standards.
Over a year ago, PG&E committed to working with the county to make use of available capacity of the desalination facility at the power plant. Diablo Canyon’s desalination plant has the potential to provide drinking water to at least 3,000 homes in the county, which would positively impact public health and is important to our community’s overall water strategy.
Additionally, an agreement exists with PG&E to use desalinated water for firefighting needs in the event of an emergency. While PG&E has stated the desalination project is no longer viable now that the plant will not be relicensed beyond 2025, we disagree. The decommissioning process will take several decades to complete, and the desalination plant will remain in operation during this time. The county believes this project is still feasible and should continue.
Diablo Canyon encompasses 12,000 acres of land and 14 miles of coastline. The facilities include a harbor, jetty and over 300,000 square feet of office space. How will the site, surrounding land and coastal area be used once the plant is decommissioned? The local community should have the opportunity to weigh in on the future use of the site and these important assets. Additionally, the local community should be given first rights regarding any potential sale of the land.
At the same time, the closure of the plant will have a dramatic impact upon the local economy and public services, and everyone will feel the impacts directly or indirectly. PG&E pays approximately $22 million in annual property taxes associated with Diablo Canyon, which primarily benefits schools, libraries, roads, health services, law enforcement and emergency services. These annual property tax payments will cease once the plant closes in 2025. Additionally, in the joint proposal, PG&E estimates the tax reductions between now and plant closure equate to $49.5 million. The county calculates the reduction will be closer to $100 million. The looming reductions in services over the next nine years could be softened if adequate transitional funding were included in the joint proposal.
Lastly, the local economic impact of Diablo Canyon is estimated at $1 billion annually. Per a 2013 Cal Poly study, Diablo Canyon directly employs more than 1,500 people in head-of-household, highly skilled jobs, and supports more than 3,358 local jobs, 4,542 statewide and 10,372 nationally. The county has been working with the Economic Vitality Corporation, Cal Poly, local cities and other stakeholders regarding how best to restructure our local economy in order to offset the tremendous loss that will occur after closure. We believe the joint proposal from PG&E should address and help mitigate the negative impacts to the economy associated with closure.
PG&E has been a valued member of our local community, and the county hopes this continues to be the case going forward. PG&E could do much for the local community by acknowledging and adequately addressing our concerns.
Regional Park to hear from local residents. The public hearings will be at 1:30 and 7:30 p.m. Please make the time to attend one of these meetings in order to make your voice heard on this important matter. For more information about the local impacts of the closure and the CPUC public meetings, go to www.slocounty.ca.gov.
Dan Buckshi is the administrative officer and emergency services director for the county of San Luis Obispo.