March 24, 2023

California lawmakers and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office are discussing possible compromises over the future of the state’s last operating nuclear power plant, which could allow operator Pacific Gas & Electric to seek federal funding to extend the reactor service life.

The tentative proposal would act as a legislative placeholder, preserving the idea of ​​extending the operation of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant while giving the legislature more time to consider seismic safety, delayed maintenance and other issues at the site located between Los Angeles and Angeles. San Francisco.

The plan surfaced amid chaos in the final days of the legislature’s two-year session, which ended at midnight on Wednesday.

On Aug. 12, the Democratic governor proposed extending the operation of the plant by five to 10 years, leaving it closed in 2025, which he said was necessary to maintain reliable power supply in an era of climate change.

But lawmakers complained of a last-minute hurried development of an extremely complex plan that must be printed as a bill later on Sunday for consideration in the current session.

During Thursday’s state Senate Energy Committee meeting, Sen. John Laird, a Santa Cruz Democrat, raised the possibility that the legislature could take “absolutely necessary” action to allow investor-owned PG&E to seek federal funding, while deferring other, more contentious issues related to the future of the reactor until next year when the legislature returns.

The Biden administration has drawn up a $6 billion plan to rescue nuclear plants at risk of shutdown, but to apply by the Sept. 6 deadline, Diablo Canyon needs state legislation to prove it has a way to Continue to operate after the planned closure.

At the hearing, Ana Matosantos, a senior Newsom administration official, agreed with Laird’s proposal that it was a possibility to allow PG&E to seek funding, as well as other options that could be considered. The state is expected to know by January whether the reactors are eligible for some funding, which some critics are skeptical about.

Laird said in an interview after the hearing that “there is an active conversation and at some point there will be bill language about a possible compromise”. As negotiations continue, it’s unclear what the final proposal will look like.

Newsom’s late-stage plan, which includes a $1.4 billion forgivable loan to PG&E, has also met resistance from other Democratic lawmakers, who have proposed an alternative that would speed up the development of solar and other renewables but require nuclear plants to shut down as planned .

Newsom’s proposal would try to undo a complex agreement reached in 2016 by environmentalists, factory workers’ unions and utilities to close the decades-old plant by 2025. The joint decision was also supported by California’s utilities regulator, the legislature and then-Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown. .

In doing so, he reopened a long-running debate about the seismic safety of the site, which has several seismic faults nearby, including one 650 yards (594 meters) from the reactor.

Environmental groups described the move as a “dangerous” betrayal of the 2016 deal. Factory workers and pro-nuclear activists support extending the plant’s operating hours, citing the need for its carbon-free electricity in a warming climate.

There is little time to reach a compromise. PG&E Chief Executive Patricia “Patti” Poppe told investors on a conference call last month that Newsom has until September to sign state legislation to clear the way for the utility to turn things around.

In an appearance in Los Angeles this week, Newsom expressed confidence that his proposal would be approved.

“I believe we will succeed,” he said.

PG&E must also obtain a new operating license from the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to operate the plant after 2025. The utility is following two tracks – evaluating the possibility of long-term operation, while continuing to plan to close and dismantle the plant as planned.

PG&E Vice President Maureen Zawalick told the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Group this week that if the state enacts the required legislation, “we will take immediate action” to seek an extension of the license while applying for federal funding.

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