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Jobs and clean energy will be lost when Diablo Canyon closes. Here’s how to replace them

Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham is focusing on helping the Central Coast deal with the upcoming closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham is focusing on helping the Central Coast deal with the upcoming closure of Diablo Canyon Power Plant.

In 2025, the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant’s second and last nuclear reactor will shut down. Nine percent of our state’s energy production will disappear, and a large number of the plant’s roughly 1,500 employees will have to find a new line of work.

This is most unfortunate. The decision to shut down Diablo Canyon was made before I was elected to the Assembly. I opposed this decision as a candidate, and have continued to oppose it as a member of the state Assembly. However, the State Lands Commission and PG&E brass have made their decision, and now we must work together to prepare for a post-Diablo world.

It’s been said that those who fail to plan are planning to fail. In that spirit, we need a plan to replace lost jobs and energy production.

Step one was to ensure that Diablo’s existing highly-trained, highly-skilled workforce remain on the job to keep the plant operational through 2025, and avoid any possibility of early closure.

To that end, state Sen. Bill Monning and I worked together last year to pass Senate Bill 1090, which will provide funding for both community impact mitigation efforts and workforce training and retention efforts.

That was step one of a transition plan. If our community has the political will, there are additional steps we can take to repurpose the Diablo Canyon infrastructure in order to create jobs, replace some of the lost energy, and improve the Central Coast.

First, Diablo Canyon has one of the West Coast’s largest desalination plants. The desalination plant, which currently provides all the water needed for the power plant, could be repurposed and pipelined to Lopez Lake to increase our local water supply.

The desalination plant at Diablo Canyon is licensed to produce 1.5 million gallons of drinking water a day. The county or another private entity could form a partnership with Cal Poly to study modern desalination technology, providing our region’s world class university with an opportunity to be at the forefront of technology that could change the state. The goal would be to collaborate and study ways to make desalination even more energy efficient and environmentally friendly than it is already.

Second, there is the potential to build offshore wind farms off the Central Coast. Offshore wind could generate large amounts of electricity that would be transmitted directly into the state’s grid through existing infrastructure at Diablo Canyon and/or Morro Bay. If the projects are large enough, a significant chunk of the energy produced by Diablo Canyon could be replaced by offshore wind generation.

Funded by private investment and built more than 30 miles off the coast, offshore wind projects would bring a significant number of jobs to our region. The federal government estimates that development of offshore wind could create over 1,000 jobs during the construction phase, and a number of permanent jobs to oversee, manage and maintain the offshore wind farm.

Offshore wind farms are currently being built off the East Coast and in numerous other countries. The opportunity for the Central Coast to be the first West Coast site is exciting.

I recently traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet federal officials on Capitol Hill and at the Departments of Interior and Defense. My takeaway is that although it will not be easy, with a coordinated effort we can convince Washington that such a project could bring tremendous benefits to our region and nation.

Diablo Canyon is an irreplaceable asset, and it is a shame that it will be decommissioned. But we should use this transition time to do some forward thinking about ways to repurpose its infrastructure. Together, we can shape the future of the Central Coast, California and nation.

Jordan Cunningham, R-Templeton, represents the 35th District in the state Assembly.