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Gov. Newsom suggests delaying Diablo Canyon's closure 

For the first time since PG&E announced plans to decommission Diablo Canyon Power Plant six years ago, Gov. Gavin Newsom indicated a desire to keep the plant operating beyond 2025, citing the realities of climate change and the threat of future power shortages.

Newsom made the comments about Diablo on April 28 to the Los Angeles Times editorial board, saying that PG&E should consider applying for the $6 billion in federal aid available to nuclear power plants across the country facing closure. Referring to the aid and a May 19 deadline to apply, Newsom said: "We would be remiss not to put that on the table as an option."

click to enlarge STAY OPEN? Gov. Gavin Newsom recently suggested that Diablo Canyon Power Plant should stay open beyond 2025—making headlines across the state. - FILE PHOTO COURTESY OF SLO COUNTY
  • File Photo Courtesy Of Slo County
  • STAY OPEN? Gov. Gavin Newsom recently suggested that Diablo Canyon Power Plant should stay open beyond 2025—making headlines across the state.

PG&E did not respond to a New Times request for comment about whether it is considering applying for the aid or whether it's changed its mind on closing Diablo. But in other statements to the media since Newsom's comments, PG&E said it is "always open to considering all options."

Local stakeholders have reacted in the days since with a mix of excitement, skepticism, and outrage. Central Coast Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham (R-SLO)—a longtime proponent of keeping Diablo operating—told New Times that he was glad to see the governor's comments and hopes PG&E will apply for the aid.

"People have been asking me, is this real?" Cunningham said. "My answer is we'll see. It's real there's federal money to extend the life of existing nuclear plants. It's real there's a deadline for PG&E to apply to try to access some of those funds. I think the governor's right—we'd be remiss in not at least trying."

Cunningham wasn't "super surprised" to see Newsom's new stance, he said, in light of recent conversations he's had with the governor's staff about the plant and the state's energy future.

"I'd been getting positive indications that they were starting to take a hard look at it," he said. "I think what is starting to change is people are looking at it going, there's going to be a chokepoint on the grid. Can we really afford to lose Diablo's energy?"

Skeptics of the new potential course—like David Weisman of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility—said they don't think PG&E or Diablo Canyon is even eligible for the federal aid.

Weisman told New Times that the aid's criteria requires a nuclear plant to face closure due to financial distress, which isn't the case with Diablo. Weisman shared a recent video of Maureen Zawalick, PG&E's vice president of decommissioning and technical services, discussing the federal aid and noting that Diablo is not shuttering for financial reasons, but due to the state's energy policies.

"It doesn't apply to them," Weisman said. "That's their own words."

Weisman added that any attempt at this juncture to reverse course on Diablo and extend its life would involve "a field full of land mines." He noted PG&E's commitment in 2016 to shutter the plant, signing a joint proposal with six labor and environmental groups, including the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, as well as Senate Bill 1090, which passed in 2018 and allowed PG&E to raise power rates to give retention bonuses to Diablo workers and economic impact funds to SLO County, local cities, and school districts.

"I hope they haven't spent those funds. Ratepayers could very likely sue to get the money back," Weisman said.

Cunningham, on the other hand, believes that the SB 1090 funding is "safe" and that PG&E is eligible for the federal aid. Cunningham's vision is that Diablo remains open for another five to 10 years under an interim license, which would give the state a runway to develop the renewable energy to replace it.

"There's a window here," he said. "These are critical years."

Linda Seeley, a spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, a longtime nonprofit Diablo watchdog, said her organization is strongly opposed to the plant's continued operation. She lambasted Newsom for his recent comments.

"We were not only shocked, we were outraged," Seeley told New Times. "There have been so many years put into this orderly shutdown of this nuclear power plant, and all of a sudden Newsom comes in and throws the apples all over the ground.

"We don't understand why, except that it may be a political move on his part," she continued. "We don't think Diablo Canyon is eligible for those funds, for one thing. But you never know in these times, how many exceptions could be made to the actual law." Δ

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