SLO County reacts to PG&E’s decision to close Diablo Canyon by 2025

Inside Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant

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.
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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.

From Sacramento to San Luis Obispo, reaction to PG&E’s announcement Tuesday that it will shut down Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant when its permits expire in 2025 has ranged from shock to optimism and applause.

Locally, many focused on the economic impacts the closure of San Luis Obispo County’s largest private employer will have on jobs and property tax revenues. Environmental groups generally hailed PG&E’s assertions that it intends, by 2031, to provide 55 percent of its total retail power sales with renewable energy. Some opponents scoffed at the feasibility of that claim and defended nuclear power as a clean energy source.

Others just said they were blindsided.

“We didn’t expect such a big decision so soon,” said Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian. “It’s very discomforting.”

Achadjian said, however, that he was glad to see PG&E had proposed several ways to ease the transition — including paying San Luis Obispo County almost $50 million to offset declining property taxes through 2025 — he is still worried about the long-term effect the departure will have on the county’s economy, including loss of jobs and property taxes.

“The pain is going to be felt when that $50 million goes away,” he said. “We won’t feel the full domino effect until then.”

One of the groups that negotiated the agreement with PG&E not to seek license renewal with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission is the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, which lobbied against license renewal.

The pain is going to be felt when that $50 million goes away. We won’t feel the full domino effect until then.

Assemblyman Katcho Achadjian

Rochelle Becker, the group’s executive director, said PG&E’s decision reflects a change in energy production in the state. It will give the county and community nine years to adjust to the change and for PG&E to replace the power generated at Diablo Canyon with renewable energy.

“Parts of this proposal usher in a bold new paradigm for the state’s energy future, but for those of us in San Luis Obispo, the proposal also provides an orderly path to phase out the reactors,” she said.

The anti-nuclear group Mothers for Peace said they were pleased with PG&E’s decision but will remain vigilant during the rest of the plant’s operation, said Linda Seeley, a spokeswoman for the group.

“Our work to safeguard public health and the environment is needed now more than ever,” she said. “Every day that Diablo Canyon is online, PG&E is playing Russian roulette with the safety of our community.”

Two pro-nuclear groups, Environmental Progress and Mothers for Nuclear, issued a statement blasting the Diablo Canyon agreement as a corrupt backroom deal that will fail. They said the public, lawmakers and the courts will ultimately reject the deal because it will increase fossil fuel use and methane and carbon emissions.

They went on to call the two environmental groups that helped negotiate the deal, the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth, hypocrites.

“Organizations seeking to increase carbon emissions by moving from low-carbon energy to natural gas from fracking must be called what they are: anti-environmental organizations,” they said in a statement. “By moving from nuclear to natural gas, these organizations are putting our children and grandchildren at risk of worsening global warming, ocean acidification and air pollution.”

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

Michael Shellenberger, president of Environmental Progress, noted that PG&E must take its closure plan to the California Public Utilities Commission.

“If it goes to the CPUC, we may sue, just as ratepayers,” he said. “I’m talking to my attorneys about that now.”

Plant employees Heather Matteson and Kristin Zaitz, members of Mothers for Nuclear, said they plan to lobby environmental groups and the public to build support for keeping the plant open.

Achadjian said the surprise announcement may complicate a bill he and state Sen. Bill Monning introduced this year to study the economic impact of closing Diablo Canyon. The bill was scheduled to go to the state Committee on Utilities & Commerce for debate but will now likely fail, Achadjian said.

“It doesn’t help doing it when we’ll see sooner than the study can be done what will happen,” he said.

But Monning said the closure announcement reinforces the need for the bill to move through the Legislature.

“The Diablo Canyon Power Plant has been an anchor tenant for the region, as well as a point of controversy over the decades it has been in operation,” he said. “The agreement by PG&E not to seek license renewal is historic and will have a major impact on the San Luis Obispo region. This action underscores the need for my Senate Bill 968, which calls for an economic assessment to assist the community on how to best address the needs of the plant’s workforce, the public’s safety and the region’s economic interests.”

Mike Manchak, executive officer of the county’s Economic Vitality Corp., said the closure means the loss of an employer with a $1 billion annual economic impact on the region.

“It will take strong collaboration between private and public sectors to develop strategies aimed at mitigating the loss of significant tax revenue to San Luis Obispo County and our local schools, as well as the thousands of jobs that are spread throughout our region,” he said.

There are more questions that need to be answered, and I have great faith in the resilience of our economy and community.

San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx

San Luis Obispo Mayor Jan Marx said she thinks PG&E’s decision was a wise one, even though it will mean the loss of local revenue.

“I think the turn toward clean and alternate energy is a good move,” she said. “There are more questions that need to be answered, and I have great faith in the resilience of our economy and community.”

Gene Nelson, with the pro-nuclear group Californians for Green Nuclear Power, said he was disappointed and felt a sense of betrayal.

“I predict the state will have more rolling blackouts once the plant closes,” he said. “It is a very sad day for San Luis Obispo, in my opinion.”

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