October 4, 2022
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Our View: Don’t forget local interests in the Diablo Canyon extension

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At a State Senate committee hearing in Sacramento in late August, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s staff gave its biggest endorsement yet to a plan to extend the life of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County.

In the early morning hours of Sept. 1, the California Legislature passed a bill, which Newsom seems sure to sign, that sets out a plan to keep California’s last nuclear plant open beyond its scheduled shutdown in 2025. The Newsom administration wants to provide a $1.4 billion loan to PG&E to keep the plant operating until at least 2030, and extending its life would also allow PG&E to apply for federal funding.

Diablo Canyon needs more than the Legislature’s approval to stay open — a green light from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission and others will be necessary to keep the plant from closing. But the process is moving quickly, and it appears to have the full endorsement of the Biden administration.

A group of Central Coast cities have asked for guarantees about the extension process, and there are questions about continuing the support for schools that’s provided for in the current operating agreement. The redevelopment plan for thousands of acres around the site will now go on hold.

The politics of Diablo Canyon’s extension are at once transparent and murky. They are transparent in the sense that climate change, particularly the drying up of reservoirs, has pointed to a vulnerability in the state’s transition to renewable energy, a transition that was heavily dependent on a continuous flow of hydroelectric power that may simply not be there if droughts continue.

It’s also true that until vast amounts of battery storage is available, Diablo Canyon, which can meet roughly 10% of the state’s power requirements, will be a reliable source of so-called baseload power.

The murkiness around Diablo Canyon mainly involves politics. Newsom clearly wants to run for president and, having survived a recall vote, he’s got momentum.

What could stall that momentum is a series of blackouts in California like the ones that led to Gray Davis’ recall a couple of decades ago. Moreover, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott, a potential presidential opponent, has his own ice storm blackouts to account for. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, another potential foe, would have a field day poking at California’s poor planning for renewable transition if the state had a summer of blackouts.

Diablo Canyon is probably needed as an insurance policy against extreme drought and unreliable renewable power without storage. But extending its life is also providing a protective blanket for a future Newsom run for the White House. If both are the case, it would be wise to make sure there is enough capital to keep the plant operating safely until it is no longer needed — and make sure Central Coast communities are adequately compensated for taking on the risk of extension, closure and decommissioning.

WELCOME ABOARD, CHANCELLOR

The Ventura County Community College District is the largest system for post-high school education in the region and one of the largest community college districts in the state. With campuses in Ventura, Oxnard and Moorpark, it serves a diverse community with degree and certificate programs and is a lynchpin in the college transfer system for Ventura County students.

On Aug. 30, the VCCCD Board of Trustees officially welcomed the district’s new chancellor, Rick MacLennan. He is a veteran in community college education, having worked in leadership posts in several states, where his work was closely aligned with economic development efforts. He’s also a Southern California native and military veteran. We welcome him to the Central Coast.