We must plan for Diablo’s closure — but do we need $800,000 worth of studies?

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.

We strongly support getting a head start on planning for the shutdown of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Yet we have to ask: Do we really need two separate studies focusing on the economic effects of the closure — to the tune of $400,000 each?

Both studies aim to gather information to help the county rebuild its economy when PG&E closes the plant in 2025. That’s a worthwhile goal, but we don’t see much sense in having two separate consulting firms chasing after some of the same information from the same sources.

What’s more, some of the information sought — such as data on the loss of tax revenue and high-paying jobs — is already available in existing documents and studies.

We urge the sponsors of the two new studies to collaborate as much as possible (or for one to wait and see what the other comes up with) to avoid unnecessary — and costly — duplication, especially since it appears ratepayers will be footing the bill.

Some background:

▪  The San Luis Obispo County Economic Vitality Corp. (EVC) is taking the lead on one study; the California Public Utilities Commission is in charge of the other.

▪  The EVC is further along in the process; it expects to announce the selection of a consultant in a week or so.

▪  The EVC project is a two-part study: the first part is an economic analysis, and the second is an economic strategy and implementation plan. The first part is expected to be complete by next winter; the second is due in the winter of 2019.

▪  Funding for the $400,000 EVC study will be advanced by the county, according to Loreli Cappel, senior project director for the EVC. The county will be reimbursed if the PUC approves PG&E’s proposed closure plan for Diablo Canyon. That plan includes $10 million to aid in economic development.

▪  The $400,000 PUC study was mandated by state legislation — SB 968 — sponsored by state Sen. Bill Monning.

▪  That study will be paid for out of the Diablo Canyon decommissioning fund that will cover the cost of dismantling Diablo Canyon after it stops operating.

▪  The PUC is in the final stages of drafting a request for proposals; the final report is due July 1, 2018.

We agree it’s important to know how big an economic hole we’ll have when Diablo closes. The plant supplies some of the highest paying jobs in the county, in addition to property taxes, sales taxes, charitable donations and volunteer hours. When all that goes away, there may be dips in enrollment at local schools, closure of some local businesses and a glut of houses on the market, though given the current housing crisis that seems unlikely.

Much of this information is already known.

As we’ve pointed out before, a 2013 study by Cal Poly estimated Diablo Canyon's contributions to the Central Coast economy at $920 million per year, and there has been additional data collection by local governments that negotiated an economic aid package with PG&E.

Monning could not be reached for comment on Friday, but he previously defended the need for another study by pointing out that past reports — including the Cal Poly study — are outdated.

Plus, other studies have focused primarily on the economic benefits Diablo Canyon provides, rather than on consequences of closure, he said.

We never did completely follow that reasoning. If communities are receiving $27 million in property tax revenue, wouldn’t it stand to reason that the consequence of closure would be the loss of approximately $27 million in property tax revenue?

To be fair, though, these various studies won’t entirely overlap.

For example, the Monning study is supposed to include information from other communities that experienced closure of a nuclear power plant. Also, the contractor will be been directed to consult with the Center for Labor Research and Education at UC Berkeley, which could provide some valuable insight.

However, we believe that developing specific policies and programs that will help replace the jobs and revenue generated by Diablo Canyon Power Plant will matter far more.

Spending $800,000 on studies is a wise investment only if the reports contain new and useful information — not a regurgitation of what we already know.

We strongly urge the EVC, the PUC and their consultants to keep that in mind.

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