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Six local cities protest proposed Diablo Canyon closure plan

Diablo Canyon announced its closure in June and six local cities are fighting for a seat at the table as the California Public Utilities Commission considers the terms and conditions of its closure.
Diablo Canyon announced its closure in June and six local cities are fighting for a seat at the table as the California Public Utilities Commission considers the terms and conditions of its closure. jjohnston@thetribunenews.com

In an “unprecedented” effort to get their voices heard in future decision-making on the planned shutdown of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, a coalition of six cities in San Luis Obispo County has jointly protested an application submitted by the plant’s operator, PG&E, to the California Public Utilities Commission.

The cities of San Luis Obispo, Arroyo Grande, Atascadero, Morro Bay, Paso Robles and Pismo Beach have filed a joint request before the CPUC, asking the state regulatory agency to formally hear their concerns regarding key impacts related to the closure.

PG&E announced in June that it planned to close Diablo Canyon, the county’s largest private employer, by 2025, contingent upon approval from the CPUC.

“We have a long-term, vested interest in the safety of Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, as well as future uses of land and other resources, such as desalinated water,” the coalition leaders of five mayors and a mayor pro tem said in a statement Thursday afternoon. “We must have a voice in the process to ensure that these issues, along with the short- and long-term economic impacts, are addressed in a fair and equitable way.”

Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant will be shut down in 2025 after its operating licenses expire.

The protest filed Thursday gives the coalition cities a seat at the table for future proceedings regarding the plant closure, similar to San Luis Coastal Unified School District and the County of San Luis Obispo. Both the latter groups voted to become intervenors in the state proceedings in July.

We must have a voice in the process to ensure that these issues, along with the short- and long-term economic impacts, are addressed in a fair and equitable way.

Coalition leaders of six local cities

Though the CPUC has not yet approved an exact review schedule, it is expected to consider PG&E’s application to shut down the plant this fall, with a final decision by June 2017.

The six cities, while noting they don’t oppose the closure, say PG&E has excluded them from

meaningful discussions thus far on how to address the effects of the plant’s closure on the local economy, environment and emergency preparedness and response.

“PG&E never engaged in any dialogue with any of the nearby cities regarding the application prior to its public release on June 21,” the coalition wrote in its protest filing to the CPUC.

In announcing the closure, PG&E said the plan was part of a “Joint Proposal” with labor and environmental organizations that the company would increase investment in energy efficiency, renewable power and electricity storage to offset power lost by the Diablo Canyon shutdown.

Under the agreement, PG&E would pay San Luis Obispo County nearly $50 million to offset declining property values through 2025.

The cities’ protest filing states that, despite repeated requests, no PG&E officials authorized to discuss terms and conditions of the application met with city leaders until Wednesday, a day before the protest filing deadline was due. Those discussions didn’t change the course of the coalition’s protest actions.

In particular, the cities say PG&E’s application to the CPUC lacks detailed information on plans to:

▪  Deal with its stored nuclear waste within 40 miles of the local cities.

▪  Remove transmission lines and demolish structures.

▪  Mitigate the loss of an annual employee payroll of more than $200 million, according to a 2013 report.

▪  Address losses in property and sales taxes, among other concerns.

The plant employs about 1,500 people with an estimated $1 billion overall annual impact on the local economy, generating head-of-household jobs, property and sales taxes, donations and infrastructure.

According to a 2013 report by PG&E, 238 of its employees lived in the city of San Luis Obispo alone, earning an average salary of $141,912 per year, totaling $33 million in annual payroll.

We value this community and our place in it. That’s why the Joint Proposal includes proposed payments that are designed to support the community in successfully transitioning over the next nine years to a future without the plant in operation.

Blair Jones, PG&E spokesman

PG&E spokesman Blair Jones said in a statement Thursday that PG&E is “committed to continuing our dialogue with local stakeholders as the Joint Proposal moves through the CPUC review process.”

He added that “it was not possible to include all affected parties in the initial negotiations,” and that PG&E has continued to meet with stakeholders to address concerns even after the proposal was filed.

“PG&E has long been a part of the local region,” Blair said. “We value this community and our place in it. That’s why the Joint Proposal includes proposed payments that are designed to support the community in successfully transitioning over the next nine years to a future without the plant in operation. This is an important issue for all of us.”

Among its proposed payments, PG&E set forth an investment proposal of $350 million in severance, retention and retraining of its employees affected by the closure.

Notably, Grover Beach was the only city in the county not to participate in the coalition.

“While this was an element of the discussion, Grover Beach did not feel this was the only way to take part in the discussion,” City Councilman and Mayor Pro Tem Jeff Lee said Thursday. Lee said the city will look to participate in the proceedings and Diablo’s proposal in other ways besides the protest filing, though he could not elaborate on what those ways would be.

The joint cities coalition also noted its strenuous objection to the “expedited schedule proposed by PG&E” for the approval of Diablo’s closure. The cities are seeking an “independent, third-party economic and fiscal impact analysis of the closure” to better understand the impacts of the plant’s closure, including economic impact and recovery efforts.

“I have high hopes that PG&E wants to help our communities prosper and thrive after the closure, just as they have done since the decision to place Diablo Canyon Power Plant in its current location many decades ago — and just as our communities have supported PG&E’s success,” San Luis Obispo City Manager Katie Lichtig said.

Pismo Beach Mayor Shelly Higginbotham said the cities involved in the protest want to be involved in the decision-making process for the closure, which they didn’t have an opportunity to do before PG&E submitted its proposal.

“I think the proposal and steps were done in a bit of a vacuum, without understanding the long-term impacts on the community,” she said Thursday. “We’d like to have a seat at the table to talk and to look for ways to buffer some of those long-term effects.”

Higginbotham’s primary concerns for Pismo Beach were how the closure would impact residents employed by PG&E and loss of occupancy tax revenues at the city’s hotels from additional PG&E employees staying in the area during planned nuclear reactor outages.

She also noted the city’s reliance on the company’s emergency operations services: Pismo Beach is the only city in the “protective area zone” in case of a major issue at the plant, and because of that, the city receives additional emergency training opportunities and weather services.

“We want to make sure we are able to continue to offer those same services we have come to rely on,” she said.

Arroyo Grande interim City Manager Bob McFall said his city was involved in the protest filing because of similar worries.

“There’s clearly going to be a number of economic impacts,” he said. “And we wanted to speak as one voice, as a group, because while the impacts for some cities will be more or less significant, we all have common concerns.”

Similar to Pismo Beach, Arroyo Grande representatives were worried about the impacts to PG&E employees living in the city, notably how to ensure jobs are available to them once the plant shuts down. McFall also noted the city was interested in being involved in the proceedings to explore how some of the plant’s facilities could be reused, notably whether a desalination plant could eventually be feasible.

“We do not know the vitality of that, but we would like to at least have the conversation,” he said.

Take a closer look at Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant near Avila Beach. California's last operating nuclear power plant will close in 2025, owner Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has announced.

What is the difference between intervening and protesting?

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