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Ariz. Public Power And Cooperative Groups Urge PG&E To Extend Nuclear Plant’s Operating Life

In a recent letter to the CEO of California investor-owned utility PG&E, groups representing public power utilities and electric cooperatives in Arizona made the case for extending the life of the California nuclear power plant Diablo Canyon Power Plant past its existing license.

“While we understand that the history of the plant is long and complicated, we hope that you will agree that the benefits of extending the operating license outweighs the cons,” wrote officials with the Irrigation & Electrical Districts’ Association of Arizona (IEDA), the Arizona Municipal Power Users’ Association (AMPUA) and the Grand Canyon State Electric Cooperative Association (GCSECA) in their June 27 letter to Patricia Poppe, CEO of PG&E.

“The development of carbon-free replacement power is not keeping pace with California’s decision to eliminate fossil fuel generation by 2045,” the letter said. With ongoing supply chain and solar tariff issues, most new plant construction has been pushed out at least two years, the letter said.  “If PG&E were to take a plant that provides roughly 9% of California’s energy offline in an environment of already limited capacity, rolling blackouts worse than those in 2020 are sure to follow.”

The letter was signed by Ed Gerak, executive director of IEDA, AMPUA’s Russell Smoldon, and Dave Lock, CEO of GCSECA.

In June 2016, PG&E said it planned to retire Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in California under a joint proposal with labor and environmental groups. The California Public Utilities Commission in 2018 signed off on a request by PG&E that it be allowed to retire the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant by 2025. The two units at Diablo Canyon together produce approximately 2,300 net megawatts of power.

In their letter, Gerak, Smoldon, and Lock noted that in the Long-Term Reliability Assessment released in December 2021 and developed by the North American Electric Reliability Corporation, Diablo Canyon’s retirement was highlighted as further impacting the reserve margin, which it described as insufficient to manage region-wide heat waves like seen in 2020. “With the existing capacity constraints and the rapid increased cost for natural gas, companies are returning to coal for economic and reliability reasons.  Closing Diablo Canyon would exacerbate this issue in the future,” the letter said.  

Gerak, Smoldon, and Lock also noted that the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law has $6 billion in a Civil Nuclear Credit Program that could be used to help retrofit the plant and extend the license.

The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) on June 30, 2022 announced an amendment to the Civil Nuclear Credit Program Guidance for the currently open award cycle. To incorporate these changes and give potential applicants the time they need to respond, DOE also extended the application period another 60 days to September 6, 2022. PG&E had requested an extension for the deadline.

In April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom told the Los Angeles Times editorial board that the state “would seek out a share of $6 billion in federal funds meant to rescue nuclear reactors facing closure,” the newspaper reported.

“With the ongoing drought, hydropower production has been severely impacted,” the letter from the IEDA, AMPUA and GCSECA officials said. “There is a real possibility of some plants losing power production completely.  Nuclear power is the only carbon-free base load generation in the West that we can still count on. We hope that includes Diablo Canyon in the future.”