By MADISON HIRNEISEN
THE CENTER SQUARE STAFF REPORTER
(The Center Square) — As the legislative session draws to a close this month, California lawmakers are set to weigh a slate of climate proposals from Gov. Gavin Newsom over the next three weeks, including one that would loan $1.4 billion to extend the life of the state’s last nuclear plant.
Concerned about California’s energy reliability as the state transitions to renewable energy sources, Gov. Newsom sent draft legislation to the Legislature last week that proposed expanding the life of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant in San Luis Obispo County by five to 10 years.
The plant, scheduled to be decommissioned by 2025, provides nearly 10% of the state’s power. Gov. Newsom’s proposal would expand the operational life of the power plant, which the proposed legislation says is “critical to ensure statewide energy system reliability and to minimize the emissions of greenhouse gasses” as new renewable energy resources become available.
Expanding the life of the plant, however, does not come without a cost. Gov. Newsom’s proposed legislation would authorize a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to Pacific Gas & Electric to address the cost associated with expanding the plant’s operating period. Additionally, PG&E has signaled that it intends to apply for $6 billion potentially available from the federal government under the Civil Nuclear Credit Program to continue the plant’s operation.
“We understand state leaders’ discussions to potentially extend operations at DCPP are progressing,” PG&E said in a statement. “We are proud of the role that DCPP plays in our state, and we stand ready to support should there be a change in state policy, to help ensure grid reliability for our customers and all Californians at the lowest possible cost.”
Gov. Newsom’s draft legislation quickly drew criticism from environmental groups. In a joint statement released Monday, Environment California, Friends of the Earth and the NRCD said the provisions in the legislation “include no citations to published studies by any California regulator or agency recommending a further life extension for Diablo Canyon because there are none.”
“With Governor Newsom and the legislature working to appropriate climate budget funds and advance ambitious climate legislation in the waning days of the legislative session, this proposal is a dangerous and costly distraction,” the groups said in a statement.
Sen.John Laird, D-Santa Cruz, whose district is home to the power plant, expressed several concerns about expanding the life of the plant, including unanswered questions about how the expansion will be paid for.
“The extension of the life of the Diablo Canyon plant will require major financial resources,” Sen. Laird said in a statement Friday. “Will state taxpayers through the general fund pay? Will federal dollars be accessed to pay back the state general fund cost? Will utility ratepayers pick up the tab?
“The existing rate system puts major costs on ratepayers in a manner that stresses lower and middle income ratepayers, who are already shouldering costs of the state’s climate efforts. How will we know who pays and how much before we make a commitment to go forward on the extended life of the plant?”
Lawmakers will be tasked with considering this proposal from Gov. Newsom and several others before the end of the legislative session on Aug. 31 – unless the governor calls a special session. The governor sent several other legislative climate proposals to lawmakers on Friday, including bills that would codify the state’s goal to achieve carbon neutrality by 2045 and establish a setback distance of 3,200 feet between any new oil well and homes, schools and parks.
Madison Hirneisen covers California for The Center Square.