June 17, 2024
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Diablo Canyon may see life beyond 2030 as offshore wind develops

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Offshore wind might be the energy that powers a lot of the state’s electricity needs decades down the line, but as of today California’s reliance on its last nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, is still as necessary as ever and that might still be the case in five years — even when it’s supposed to be heading offline

Representatives from across the state’s energy sectors gathered in Solvang on May 9 for the Econ Alliance’s annual Energy Forum.

One of the keynote speakers was Jennifer Miller, a chief renewable energy section for the Bureau of Ocean Management in the Pacific Region. 

She gave an update on the process of offshore wind development in the state, which includes the three Morro Bay sites.

In December 2022, those three Morro Bay leases totaled $425.6 million in proceeds. 

It was part of the U.S. Department of the Interior’s provisional winners of an auction of floating offshore wind farm leases along the coast of Morro Bay and Humboldt County in Northern California, with bids totaling $757.1 million.

The Bureau of Ocean Energy Management, which oversaw the lease auction, projects the sale has the potential to produce over 4.5 gigawatts of offshore wind energy, enough to power more than 1.5 million homes, and will support thousands of new jobs.

Miller said on May 9 that the auction did not generate the same type of sales seen on the East Coast, where some individual leases went for over $1 billion, but BOEM considered it a “success.”

“It shows that there is still some work to be done when it comes to the floating offshore wind and in some ways, it’s good that the price wasn’t that drastically high because that means that the cost of the energy will be lower,” Miller said.

The goal is to have floating offshore wind-up and running by 2030, the same year the Diablo Canyon Power Plant will be going offline, barring another extension.

But Miller’s outline of the DOI’s process noted that site evaluations and construction operations plans take up to six years to fully come together.

With the leases being finalized in the middle of 2023, if construction didn’t start until 2029 at these sites, it might not be feasible to have offshore wind up by the time Diablo Canyon is set to go offline.

Eric Daniels, a public policy and external affairs expert at PG&E, agreed that the timelines don’t appear to fully mesh.

“I think there will have to be more extensions for Diablo,” Daniels said.

“We’re talking about just offshore wind and we’ve got some representatives from offshore wind companies here today and, in five years, I am just not sure that’s going to happen. I think they hope it will, but I think it will take a bit longer.”

The option to keep Diablo Canyon operational beyond 2030 is possible.

When Gov. Gavin Newsom signed Senate Bill 846 into law, which called for the extension of the nuclear power plant through 2030, it meant that PG&E, operators of the plant, had to file a relicensing application with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to extend operation at the Diablo Canyon power plant for another 20 years.

Applications are only renewed 20 years at a time. 

In December, the NRC’s determination of sufficiency allowed PG&E to continue operating Units 1 and 2 at Diablo Canyon past their current licenses of 2024 and 2025, respectively, while the License Renewal Application is under review. 

If approved, the plant could be operational through 2045, though SB 846 calls for the closure of the plant in 2030.

In preparation for that possibility, Daniels noted the importance of keeping Diablo Canyon’s skilled workforce. 

“Because if we lose that expertise and we get to a point where we cannot operate the plant safely, we must shut it down and we never want to get to that place. With this extension, we have been hiring new people because there were a lot of people ready to retire who ended up staying on but are now ready to move on,” Daniels said.

Diablo Canyon, which provides about 9% of the state’s electricity supply, is the state’s largest power plant and producer of clean energy, generating enough carbon-free electricity to meet the needs of three million people, according to PG&E.

Daniels notes the importance of other forms of carbon-free energy coming online, especially to help meet the state’s goal of zero-carbon by 20455, but “the time ticks away fast and if we don’t get on it, and out how to get this online, it will take even longer.”

email: jmercado@pacbiztimes.com