California state legislators voted to extend the life of the state’s last operating nuclear plant by up to five years.
The bill approved in the early hours of September 1 authorizes a $1.4 billion government loan to keep the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant running. Under the legislation, some state agencies would be exempted from complying with certain environmental laws to enable the extension.
The decision marks a reversal of California’s 2016 decision to retire the PG&E-owned plant by 2025.
The effort to keep Diablo Canyon running was backed by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) but opposed by some environmental groups. Newsom has cited the need to shore up the state’s electric reliability and prevent rolling blackouts.
The bill easily won the support of the required two-thirds of lawmakers it needed to pass.
Without the plant, nine million Californians are at risk of having their power grid fail, warned Republican Assemblyman Jim Patterson in rare agreement with Newsom.
“If we don’t do this, we’re going to have to explain to our constituents why our foolish decisions have created circumstances in which they are compelled to live in a state in which they can’t use their air conditioner,” he said.
Newsom has no direct authority over the operating license for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant. The vote opens the way for Pacific Gas & Electric to begin a two-pronged effort to seek a longer run for the plant beyond a scheduled closing by 2025, but uncertainties remain and it does not guarantee that will happen.
The utility needs to obtain permission from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to continue making electricity beyond 2025, when its license expires, and PG&E also will seek a share of $6 billion the Biden administration has set aside to rescue nuclear plants at risk of closing.
The late-night voting also included approval of $54 billion in climate change spending, restrictions on oil and gas drilling and a mandate that the state stop adding carbon dioxide to the atmosphere by 2045.
California wants to produce all of its electricity from clean sources by 2045, but has faced challenges with that transition, such as rolling blackouts during a summer heatwave in 2020. Nuclear energy, which does not emit carbon emissions, accounts for about 9% of the state’s electricity and nearly a fifth of its carbon-free power.
Some environmental groups had argued the plant poses a safety threat, will be expensive to keep operating and should be replaced as quickly as possible by renewable energy.
The twin-reactor Diablo Canyon plant has been operating commercially since the mid-1980s, supplying power to about 3 million homes in Northern and central California.
NOTE: Some reporting in this story comes from The Associated Press. Stay with us as we continue to provide updates on developments with the Diablo Canyon plant.
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