Let’s get real.
Placing faith in the economic engine of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant to fund the future of our schools, county, nonprofits and local businesses is becoming an increasingly risky proposition.
The Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility has been raising this question publicly since PG&E applied in 2009 to relicense the facility. More recent challenges — the need for lease permits, water permits, seismic updates — create situations that could potentially cause the facility to shut down even sooner than 2025.
Last month, The Tribune opined on this subject regarding Sen. Bill Monning’s SB 968, which would investigate San Luis Obispo County’s economic future without Diablo. Almost exactly three years earlier, The Tribune editorial board raised similar concerns — and encouraged the county’s nascent effort to plan for this foreseeable and unavoidable event, be it 2025, 2045 or sooner.
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What has happened since then? For one: the sudden shutdown of the San Onofre nuclear plant in July 2013. That workforce and community had no notice that the plant would prematurely retire, as Southern California Edison had determined that continued investment was not in the utility’s best interest. History reminds us that three out of the four California nuclear plants have been retired long before their licenses expired. There is little doubt that PG&E is considering the same option, hence their recent statements that they have not made up their mind about license renewal. This could mean resources will end or quickly dwindle before 2025.
The decision to close Diablo Canyon will not be made in San Luis Obispo, but at the corporate headquarters of PG&E. Its CEO, Tony Earley, acknowledging federal criminal charges in the San Bruno pipeline explosion that could result in a $1 billion fine, recently told the San Francisco Chronicle, “We’ve got a lot on our plates, and we just don’t need to take on another big public issue right now.”
To which we would add the comments of California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker: “I will say that California has not had great luck with nuclear power. ... We have, in general, a wealth of choices, so no one plant is absolutely essential.”
The realization that SLO could lose its largest private employer is beginning to dawn on those who depend on PG&E’s resources. The Alliance has brought this to the attention of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, which would be severely impacted, and we understand they are now investigating future options for fiscal stability. We believe local chambers of commerce, the Economic Vitality Corporation and non-governmental organizations should also become actively involved, as the ripple effects from the loss of Diablo’s revenue could devastate their finances as well.
Further, the SLO County government needs to make good on its intentions to truly investigate alternative businesses and models for the county’s future. There are recent lessons to be learned from several former reactor communities — including Crystal River, Fla., and Kewaunee, Wis. — that have similar populations as well as ancillary drivers of tourism and agriculture. Both are scrambling to make up the losses and cobble together redevelopment plans.
Among the lessons: Local planners should have evaluated land use, zoning, infrastructure, tax and housing policies in advance in order to become a competitive location for the economic drivers they now seek.
Into this mix comes the welcome addition of Sen. Monning’s SB 968. The Alliance believes this bill is a first step toward addressing the economic shortfall to our county, our schools, our businesses and our nonprofits.
While SB 968’s call for an updated economic analysis has garnered the initial attention, the Alliance finds the most important feature is its subsequent “identification of any contingency plans that could mitigate the adverse economic impact of an early shutdown to state and local jurisdictions, the local workforce, and entities receiving enhanced tax revenue.”
This request opens the door for dialog between our local community and Sacramento, and if need be, even the federal government. Perhaps the studies will help identify ways in which SLO could benefit from federal redevelopment funds, as if this were a military base closure.
Last year, Sen. Monning and Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian worked with the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility in a bipartisan fashion to ensure emergency planning funding remains at Diablo through 2025 (AB 361); we are hopeful this new bill will also share bipartisan support and attain similar unanimous passage in both houses.
The energy paradigm is changing fast. Most PG&E ratepayers (and the state’s grid) won’t notice if Diablo shuts down, and many will breathe easier knowing the risks of a seismically vulnerable nuclear plant have been greatly reduced.
Denial of this possibility is no longer in SLO’s best interest, regardless of one’s position on nuclear power. It’s time to make sure the small community that hosted Diablo — with both its profits and risks — is not left behind (even though SLO will be left bearing the waste for years).
Sen. Monning’s efforts are an excellent start in getting Sacramento involved in SLO’s post-Diablo future. Now it is up to our community to remain engaged and work with leaders and decision-makers to create the future that will carry us into the remainder of the 21st century.
Rochelle Becker is the executive director of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, www.a4nr.org