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The year the music died 

Diablo Canyon Power Plant maintenance is suspicious, as the facility will be closing soon

Two years ago was the year the music died for California renewables, as they neared their limit of efficient production. According California Energy Commission data, in 2019 in-state renewables only contributed to about 23 percent of total California power consumption, barely a percent or so more than in 2018, and even that was less than the increase in renewables capacity for the same period. In that same year, according to the California Independent System Operator, in-state renewables overproduction (power that could not be used at the time it was produced) was double that of the year previous. But it could have been a lot worse.

For some reason, someone decided that 2019 would be a good time to greatly increase maintenance activities at Diablo Canyon Power Plant even though it is scheduled to close. This resulted in a series of shutdowns throughout the year amounting to the equivalent of taking a reactor offline for some four months. In 2020 they did the same, leaving Diablo Canyon's vaunted banner of reliability in tatters by dropping production by more than 10 percent ... for two straight years. By pure coincidence, this also had the effect of substantially reducing the level of renewable overproduction in 2019 and 2020. Even at that, renewables overproduction climbed yet another 65 percent in 2020.

In summary, recent official data confirms the fact that California renewables will never be able to efficiently serve much more than a quarter of California's annual power demand without efficient energy storage. But efficient energy storage is out of the question. In order to store intermittent renewable energy, you must expand renewable capacity to collect additional energy for storage. For example, for every solar panel directly producing power, you would need at least three more to collect energy for storage to use when the sun is not available. The cost of the redundant capacity along with the cost of storage (especially short-lived battery technologies, and concurrent with increased demand for electric vehicle batteries) would inflate the cost of renewable energy by an order of magnitude, and the resultant scramble for finite resources would have a devastating effect on the environment. Besides, if energy storage is the answer, it should have been built yesterday.

Now this maintenance business at Diablo Canyon could be legit. I mean the place is old and it could very well be falling apart. Still, it is very unusual see so much being spent on maintenance of a facility that is on the verge of closing. On the other hand, it could be an attempt on the part of public officials, with the co-operation of PG&E, to delay, obscure, or otherwise cover up the now-indisputable failings of renewables, so as to allow the continuation of wasteful renewable subsidies and to justify our exorbitant utility rates which are among the highest in the country, while in the end natural gas will get to pick up the slack. You decide. And, by the way, to those of you out there that are PG&E shareholders—a drop in production is a drop in profits—so you might want to call your lawyers. Δ

Mark Henry from San Luis Obispo likes to write about nuclear energy. Send comments for publication

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