California’s final legislative session finished late Wednesday, passing to Gov. Gavin Newsom a bill to give the state’s last nuclear plant, Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DCPP), a new lease on life by extending the retirement date by several years. 

Newsom said late Wednesday the DCPP’s continued operations were “critical” in “making sure we have energy reliability going forward.”

The plant is aligned with the state’s energy and climate plans, Newsom said, “because it does not produce greenhouse gases. That energy provides baseload reliability and affordability that will complement and allow us to stack all of the green energy that we’re bringing online at record rates.” 

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The two-unit plant began operating in the mid-1980s with a planned 40-year lifetime. Unit 1 had been scheduled to retire in November 2024, with Unit 2 to follow in August 2025. Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E), which owns and operates DCPP, has been actively working on decommissioning planning activities since 2018. 

Now, following lawmakers’ approval of state Senate Bill (SB) 846, PG&E is expected to reverse course and restart license renewal projects. The bill would allow PG&E to set the retirement date to Oct. 31, 2029,[ for Unit 1 and Oct. 31, 2030 for Unit 2. 

SB 846 also grants PG&E a $1.4 billion forgivable loan that would be used for the Diablo Canyon Extension Fund. 

SB 846 cited that continuing operations at DCPP “may be necessary to improve statewide energy system reliability and to reduce emissions” as additional renewable sources come online and are adequate to meet demand. The nuclear power plant supplies almost 20% of California’s zero-carbon electricity and about 8% of total electricity supply.

The bill is now off to Newsom’s desk, which he is expected to sign into law. 

The legislative approval came after months of debate surrounding the plant’s closure and what it would mean for energy supply.

“The state would be better served by a temporary extension of an existing carbon-free resource,” said California Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D) in a letter to state Senate leaders. 

Feinstein also noted that the “alternative to the closure of the reactors at DCPP will most likely be additional natural gas generation,” which “would reverse progress on emissions reductions and worsen air quality.”

California Independent System Operator (CAISO) President Elliot Mainzer also sent a letter to Newsom. He said the DCPP “supply provides significant support for the grid during evening hours when solar is no longer operating. The loss of approximately 2,000 MW of clean generation supply from Diablo Canyon requires an infrastructure replacement plan…

“We should ensure new sources of clean electric supply are in place before retiring non-emitting generation that plays such an instrumental role supporting reliable electric service.” 

PG&E’s Maureen Zawalick, vice president of decommissioning and technical services, last month said once SB 846 was enacted, the utility would submit an application to the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) to receive support through the Civil Nuclear Credit Program. The program was established in the recently enacted federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.

“Following state direction, we plan to submit an application seeking DOE funds to help lower costs for customers. We plan to submit an application by the Sept. 6 deadline,” PG&E’s Suzanne Hosn, senior manager for marketing and communications, told NGI. The DOE would then determine whether PG&E is eligible for funding, “and then how much funding.”

‘The Likes Of Which We Haven’t Experienced’

The decision to extend DCPP operations followed another alert by CAISO this week that excessive heat was expected to stress the energy grid. The grid operator warned that “the most extensive heat wave in the West so far this year” is on the state’s doorstep and may last more than a week. CAISO warned peak electricity load could go beyond 48 GW beginning early next week. 

The state’s regulated utilities, which include PG&E, San Diego Gas and Electric Co., Southern California Edison Co. and Southern California Gas Co., asked consumers to reduce their electricity use during peak hours.

Newsom also issued an executive order (EO) declaring a state of emergency to allow power plant operators to generate additional electricity. He has permitted the use of backup generators to reduce the amount of energy operators would need to draw from the grid during peak energy demand periods. The governor noted that the state would implement additional mitigation measures to “counteract the increased emissions they will cause.”

Green Legislation Proceeds

The state Senate on Wednesday also voted to codify the state’s greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction goals, cementing the goal of carbon neutrality by 2045 via Assembly Bill (AB) 1279. The goal is an “almost complete transition away from fossil fuels.” 

Dubbed the California Climate Crisis Act, AB 1279 also sets targets for the California Air Resources Board (CARB) to identify and implement methods to remove GHGs and carbon dioxide (CO2) through carbon capture, utilization and storage (CCUS). 

The bill’s enactment would depend on the full passage of SB 905, which cleared the Senate Wednesday evening, bringing with it provisions to reduce CO2 emissions. Under SB 905, CARB and other regulatory agencies by 2025 would establish a program to study CCUS technologies, develop monitoring and reporting schedules for projects and ensure they minimize threats to public health and safety. 

One of the many goals of SB 905 is to reduce fossil fuel production in the state. The bill also would prevent CCUS projects from being used at a later time for enhanced oil recovery.

In addition, SB 1020, the so-called Clean Energy, Jobs, and Affordability Act of 2022, achieved passage. The bill would set incremental targets for 2030, 2035 and 2040 to achieve carbon neutrality on the state’s electrical grid by 2045. State agencies must also receive 100% of their supply of electricity from renewable energy resources by 2035.