Environment

PG&E urged to preserve Wild Cherry Canyon when Diablo Canyon shuts down

PG&E holds public meeting on Diablo Canyon closure

PG&E held a meeting Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo to present information about the 2025 Diablo Canyon closure, address questions and take public comment.
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PG&E held a meeting Wednesday, July 20, 2016, at Embassy Suites in San Luis Obispo to present information about the 2025 Diablo Canyon closure, address questions and take public comment.

Dozens of people attending two public workshops Wednesday held by PG&E urged the utility company to conserve 12,000 acres surrounding Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant, including the Wild Cherry Canyon area of Avila Beach, after the plant closes in 2025.

In contrast, about a dozen others urged PG&E to keep the power plant open by renewing its two operating licenses with the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission.

PG&E executives said they held the two afternoon meetings — which drew about 100 people at the first meeting and another 30 at a second meeting later in the day — to promote transparency and collaboration as the company plans the closure of Diablo Canyon.

The meetings Wednesday in San Luis Obispo were the first of four at which PG&E will discuss the proposal to shut the nuclear plant down in 2025 while increasing energy efficiency, renewable power generation and storage. The next two meetings will be held Friday in San Francisco.

Of about 100 attendees at Wednesday’s early afternoon meeting, 26 gave public testimony.

Kara Woodruff with Friends of Wild Cherry Canyon urged PG&E to honor the wishes of San Luis Obispo County residents who passed an advisory ballot initiative in 2000 called the Dream Initiative by a margin of 74 percent. The initiative urged conservation of all Diablo Canyon lands after the plant closes. A development company called HomeFed Corp. has proposed building a housing development in the 2,500-acre Wild Cherry Canyon that would create as many as 1,500 homes.

“We see a vision for this land, and it is open space and recreation,” Woodruff said.

Ed Halpin, Diablo Canyon’s chief nuclear officer, said the utility has not made a decision about the future of Wild Cherry Canyon.

About a dozen members of the pro-nuclear group Californians for Green Nuclear Power also attended Wednesday’s meeting and urged PG&E to reverse its decision to close the plant when the second of its two operating licenses expires in 2025. (The first expires in 2024.)

Instead of shutting down the plant, PG&E should urge the state to change its renewable energy policy to support nuclear power, said Gene Nelson, the group’s spokesman.

However, Halpin said the utility would not do that.

“This was not an easy decision,” he said of the closure plan. “This is our proposal, and we are sticking by it.”

The closure proposal has several regulatory hurdles it must overcome before the deal is finalized. The most important is the approval by the California Public Utilities Commission. PG&E plans to submit the closure proposal to the agency July 28.

PG&E estimates the cost to decommission Diablo Canyon will be $3.9 billion. It already has $2.8 billion in a trust fund that it has collected from ratepayers over the 31 years the plant has been operating.

Over the next several years, the utility will develop a formal decommission plan that will have a more refined cost estimate.

PG&E said it will provide a public report that summarizes the questions and commentary raised at the public information meetings.

The closure proposal has already received one key regulatory approval. In late June, the State Lands Commission approved an extension of the plant’s cooling system license to 2025. Without this extension, the plant would have been forced to shut down in 2018.

The plan to shut the plant down in 2025 has received mixed reviews. Many of the plant’s employees lament the closure and the loss of nearly 1,500 high-paying jobs.

“Not only is nuclear an awesome technology, it is the future,” said Heather Matteson, a 13-year employee of Diablo Canyon.

Although critics of the plant say they are worried by the safety implications of another nine years of the plant’s operation, they are particularly disappointed that an environmental impact report was not required for the extension of the plant’s cooling water system.

“This proposal looks like a deal whereby PG&E gets to strengthen its bottom line while escaping accountability for the environmental damage being caused by the plant every day it operates,” said Jane Swanson, spokeswoman for anti-nuclear group San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.

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