RELEASE: By Keeping Diablo Canyon Open, CA Would Maintain State’s Largest Source of Clean Energy

Gov. Newsom’s announcement to LA Times Ed Board to reconsider decision to shut down the plant is a major step toward meeting the state’s climate and energy goals

Berkeley, Calif. — In a major shift, California Governor Gavin Newsom told the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board that the state will be pursuing options to reverse the scheduled closure of Diablo Canyon, California’s last operating nuclear power plant.

Ever since California and PG&E began considering in 2015 and announced in 2016 that the state would shut down Diablo Canyon prematurely, Breakthrough has argued this would increase carbon emissions and create significant problems for the state’s energy demands. As Breakthrough Institute Deputy Director Alex Trembath remarked last week in an interview with CBS Morning News, “I don’t know why we would take this enormous piece of our clean electricity pie and just throw it in the garbage.”

The Breakthrough Institute staff is available for interview and comment

Diablo Canyon is California’s largest source of clean energy, providing as much as 11% of the state’s electricity and equivalent to 130% of the state’s wind power and 42% of its solar power.

In a 2016 piece for USA Today, Breakthrough Institute Founder and Executive Director Ted Nordhaus wrote that environmentalists are undermining their own goals by shutting down zero-carbon nuclear energy plants like Diablo Canyon. And, last year in Foreign Policy, he wrote how in virtually every country that has closed nuclear plants, clean electricity has been replaced with dirty power.

“It would be really hypocritical to close that plant and see our carbon emissions go up,” said Breakthrough senior analyst Jessica Lovering in 2015, now co-founder and executive director at the Good Energy Collective.

In an analysis last December, Breakthrough found that by closing San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in 2012, California increased emissions by 37 million metric tons of CO2e as most of the energy was replaced by natural gas and caused a 33% drop in clean generation in California in 2012 relative to 2011. This was mirrored by a 35% increase in natural gas generation.

“Keeping Diablo Canyon open would be a huge signal that California is serious about its commitment to solving climate change and not simply paying lip service to unrealistic advocates of a renewables-only approach,” said Ted Nordhaus. “As we’ve seen in Germany, Japan, and around the world, every time nuclear power plants are closed, they are replaced with fossil fuels and the grid gets dirtier.”

Following an OpEd in the San Luis Obispo Tribune and a meeting with the Breakthrough Institute last year, the Sacramento Bee Editorial Board wrote that by closing Diablo Canyon, California would be unable to meet its promise to replace that power generation with only renewables and that fossil fuels would likely fill the gap — keeping the state running in place in a race to meet its strict climate goals.

Called “treadmill decarbonization,” in a term coined by Breakthrough’s Director for Nuclear Innovation Dr. Adam Stein, shutting down Diablo Canyon would simply replace one clean energy source with another, instead of using new clean energy to eliminate existing fossil fuel generation altogether.

“Nuclear power is safe, zero-carbon, and essential to California’s clean energy future,” said Dr. Stein. “Keeping Diablo Canyon open would give the state more time to bring renewables online while paving the way for the state to build out the electrical infrastructure for electric vehicles and other clean energy technologies. We simply can’t afford to run in place any longer.”

Further, replacing Diablo Canyon with renewables would require huge swaths of land throughout the state for wind and solar generation and frequently collide with critical habitats of endangered species, making it extremely costly and time-consuming to build as environmental reviews and opposition groups fight the projects.

As Ted Nordhaus wrote for the San Francisco Chronicle, “Development of large-scale renewable energy projects in California in recent years has brought with it significant impacts on wildlife habitat.” He continued, “These impacts were not simply the result of poor siting decisions. Sunny deserts and windy ridge lines that represent good places for wind and solar farms also tend to be environmentally sensitive areas.”

Newsom told the Los Angeles Times Editorial Board the state is pursuing funding from the US Department of Energy to consider keeping Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant operating beyond its planned shutdown in 2025. Earlier this week, DOE announced it is accepting applications for the Civil Nuclear Credit Program, which offers $6 billion in funding to keep existing nuclear

“Gov. Newsom’s announcement today that the state is pursuing funds to keep Diablo Canyon operating is a critical first step, but the decision shouldn’t be this hard,” said Ted Nordhaus. “As I’ve been saying since the decision was first made, it’s time we reconsider the state’s ban on nuclear energy and embrace it as a clean, safe source of carbon-free energy. We won’t be able to meet our climate goals without it.”