Editorials

Diablo Canyon will close. Will SLO County be left alone to pick up the pieces?

The California Public Utilities Commission made it official Thursday — PG&E can close Diablo Canyon, but it can’t ask ratepayers to pick up the tab for $85 million in economic aid for our community.

This would not have been a huge burden on ratepayers. According to PG&E’s calculations, the typical residential customer would have paid an additional 12 cents a month during the first year. After that, the cost would have decreased to 6 cents a month for the next seven years. Then it would have gone away completely.

The CPUC decision is disappointing, but let’s be clear: This is not the end. It can’t be.

Without financial assistance, some San Luis Obispo schools could shut down, public services could suffer and the regional economy — which only recently recovered from the Great Recession — would take an even bigger hit from Diablo’s closure.

That means other businesses could be forced to close, more jobs could dry up and tax revenue could shrink even more.

There are other ways to obtain the $85 million: Passage of special state legislation is one. Asking PG&E shareholders to pick up the tab is another. But here’s the rub: PG&E shareholders are under no legal obligation to help local communities cope with the loss of Diablo Canyon jobs and tax revenue.

On top of that, shareholders already are taking a financial hit after PG&E suspended dividends on account of uncertainty over the liabilities it may face from Northern California fires. So, much as we might like to stick shareholders with the cost, we would have a better chance of winning $85 million in a lottery.

That leaves special legislation. State Sen. Bill Monning and Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham have pledged to do what they can to get a bill passed and for that, we commend and thank them.

There’s nothing concrete on the table at this point, but there are a few legislative options:

▪  Authorize the CPUC to take $85 million from the Diablo Canyon decommissioning trust fund, which will cover the cost of dismantling the plant after it’s closed.

There’s precedent: Monning sponsored legislation in 2016 — SB 968 — that authorized taking $400,000 from the trust to fund a study on the economic impacts of Diablo’s closure. But it’s one thing to allocate $400,000; $85 million would be a much bigger hit, seeing as there’s around $2.7 billion in the trust fund, and PG&E is estimating it will need $3.8 billion for decommissioning.

▪  Allocate the $85 million from the state budget.

Yes, it’s a long shot, but the state is predicting a $7.5 billion general fund surplus in the next fiscal year. And doesn’t the entire state have an interest in ensuring that every county is economically healthy?

▪  Authorize the CPUC to pass the cost on to ratepayers.

This may seem unfair to electric customers far removed from San Luis Obispo County. It’s not. For one thing, the cost would barely be noticeable. For another, as Sen. Monning points out, all PG&E customers have benefited from the energy produced by the nuclear power plant, but only San Luis Obispo County has taken on the risks and burdens of hosting Diablo Canyon. Those risks will continue until all radioactive material is removed from the site — and there’s no telling when that will be.

Monning told us he’s made no decision as to what the best remedy is.

That’s OK — we trust Monning and Cunningham to take the most sensible and realistic approach.

As we’ve said before, we can’t afford to give up.

San Luis Obispo County will have a tough time recovering from the economic loss of Diablo Canyon no matter what. It will be far worse if we’re left to deal with the consequences alone, without any kind of economic assistance.

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