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'Business as usual' for Diablo Canyon in 2017 

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant had a big year in 2016. 

In June, PG&E announced that it would no longer seek to renew operating licenses for the plant’s two reactors, paving the way for a shutdown in 2025 and, eventually, the total decommissioning of the plant.

The process of closing the plant will take time, and while 2017 will bring more discussion and decisions about the plant’s future, not much will change for day-to-day plant operations in the New Year.

“At the plant in 2017 it is business as usual,” said Blair Jones, a PG&E spokesman. “Our focus is safely operating for the next eight to nine years, from a plant operations standpoint.”

While the plant will continue to hum along, 2017 will still be an important year for Diablo Canyon. There are still a lot of boxes that need checking off before the plant can actually cease operations. The California Public Utilities Commission still has to approve the company’s proposal to shutter the plant as part of an ongoing rate case.

In that time SLO County must come to grips with the reality of a post-Diablo future. The plant injects more than $1 billion annually into the local economy. In property taxes alone, Diablo contributes $22 million each year to 80 different government entities in the county, according to SLO County Administrative Officer Dan Buckshi. That amount would depreciate to zero or near zero by 2025, Buckshi said, and have a significant impact on those entities.

Those concerns were part of the reason that the county, along with a coalition of six local cities and the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, decided to protest PG&E’s initial offer of a more than $49.9-million package to offset the economic loss. On Nov. 28, PG&E announced it had come to a settlement with the county, the district, and the coalition of cities for an $85-million support package. The settlement allocates $75 million to local agencies to mitigate the loss of property taxes and an additional $10 million to go toward an economic development fund to fuel job creation.

One of the entities concerned about Diablo’s closure is the San Luis Coastal Unified School District. Ryan Pinkerton, assistant superintendent, said that the district is funded through local property taxes, $8 million of which come from the plant. That’s 10 percent of the district’s budget that will be lost with the closure of the plant. With the settlement, the district will receive $36 million. 

“We still have to cut $8 million of ongoing revenue,” he said, “so we have to start making those reductions now.”

Pinkerton told New Times that Superintendent Eric Prater is designing a reduction plan for the next four years outlining potential areas and programs in the district that can be cut. The first to be expected are within the district office. 

“ … 85 to 88 percent of our budget is people,” Pinkerton said, adding that therefore, 85 percent of the district’s budget cuts should be to staff.

He said that the district is going to try to use the process of attrition—if a staff member retires, their position won’t be filled if it isn’t necessary. But that’s not to say that layoffs aren’t completely off the table.

As of Dec. 8, both the county and the district have approved the settlement with PG&E. As the city councils from the coalition of six cities prepare to approve the settlement, proceedings at the CPUC are likely to continue through most of the year. Jones said PG&E hopes to have a final decision on their case from the CPUC by the end of 2017. 

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