How will San Luis Obispo County’s economy fare without Diablo Canyon?

State Sen. Bill Monning has introduced a bill that would require another economic study of the effects of closing Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
State Sen. Bill Monning has introduced a bill that would require another economic study of the effects of closing Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. Tribune file photo

There’s no denying San Luis Obispo County’s economy will take a huge hit when the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant closes, whether it’s in 2025 or 2045.

High-paying jobs will be lost, tax revenue will disappear or diminish, businesses dependent on Diablo Canyon will lose revenue, and nonprofit organizations will feel the pinch as donations and volunteer hours contributed by Diablo Canyon employees shrink.

We already have an idea of the magnitude of the financial hit: A 2013 study by Cal Poly estimated Diablo Canyon’s contributions to the Central Coast economy at $920 million.

Do we really need another study to tell us what will happen if Diablo Canyon closes?

Yes, says our local state Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, who introduced a bill last week asking the state Public Utilities Commission to require PG&E to hire an independent contractor to study the effects of a shutdown. The study would also look at ways to cushion the economic blow.

Monning says a new study is needed because past reports — including the 2013 Cal Poly study, which used 2011 data — are outdated, and they’ve focused mostly on the economic benefits Diablo Canyon provides San Luis Obispo County, rather than on consequences of closure.

That’s not entirely the case; the Cal Poly study actually did touch on what would happen if Diablo Canyon is not relicensed to operate through 2045. Among other findings, it estimated 3,286 jobs would be lost, including positions at the plant and in local communities hurt by the ripple effects of closure.

In other gloomy news, the study estimated local property tax revenue from Diablo Canyon — nearly $26 million in 2014-15 — would decline by 97.3 percent.

None of this is rocket science. Eventual loss of Diablo Canyon-related revenue is something local governments have discussed for years and have tried to prepare for as best they can.

But Monning says it’s more important than ever to focus on effects of closure, given uncertainty over whether PG&E will move forward with relicensing. It’s been widely speculated that it may prove too costly and onerous for the company to continue to operate the plant if it’s required to install cooling towers and do additional earthquake retrofitting work.

Monning also pointed to what happened at San Onofre, where malfunctioning equipment caused the plant to close prematurely, as a reason to be as prepared as possible for a Diablo Canyon shutdown.

We agree with his reasoning, although we’re not sure another laundry list of economic losses is all that necessary, especially if ratepayers have to pick up the tab for the study. At least some financial information — such as estimated tax revenue losses to local governments — should be readily available.

What we’re far more interested in is the other focus of the proposed study: exploring what can be done to help the local economy weather Diablo Canyon’s closure. Those measures could include asking PG&E to commit to transferring Diablo Canyon employees to its other local operations, Monning told The Tribune, as well as converting the plant to other uses.

The senator wasn’t sure whether the state could offer financial assistance to help local governments, such as schools, recover from the economic hit that Diablo Canyon’s closure would inflict, though he added it’s something the study could consider. We would hope so.

Here’s our take: We support a study that would provide fresh insight and concrete suggestions to help the county through the financial fallout of Diablo Canyon’s closure, but we don’t see the need to run more numbers simply to make it appear officials are being proactive.

If Sacramento really wants to help San Luis Obispo County prepare financially for the closure of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, it should focus on finding solutions, not on doom-and-gloom prognostications.