The Honorable Edmund G. Brown, Jr., Governor of California
August 11, 2016
Dear Governor Brown,
Several months ago we wrote to you to raise our concerns about Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear plant. Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) has now agreed in a Joint Proposal with Friends of the Earth, the Natural Resources Defense Council, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility and other groups to close the plant in 2025.
We request that you ask the California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) to delay consideration of that and any other proposal to close Diablo until the legislature and the public, who will have to foot the bill, can openly debate how California can most quickly and cost-effectively stop the damage to the climate from our electrical system emissions. There are serious questions about whether this proposal is good for ratepayers, the environment and the climate.
Retirement of the plant will make a mockery of California’s decarbonization efforts. Diablo Canyon’s yearly output of 17,600 gigawatt-hours supplies 9 percent of California’s total in-state electricity generation and 21 percent of its low-carbon generation. If Diablo closes it will be replaced mainly by natural gas, and California’s carbon dioxide emissions will rise.
The Joint Proposal’s doesn’t come close to replacing this lost low-carbon power. It only mandates 4,000 gigawatt-hours per year of energy efficiency and, optionally, new renewable generation, to replace four times as much lost nuclear output. And much of the demand reduction PG&E forecasts to replace Diablo will come about simply from customers switching from PG&E to alternate electricity providers, with no guarantee that their new electricity supply will come from low-carbon sources.
The inevitable result would be the replacement of Diablo Canyon’s zero-emissions power with a mix of renewables and gas with dramatically higher greenhouse emissions. And even if the plant were nominally replaced by lower energy consumption or renewables, there would be no net reduction in emissions and a huge lost opportunity for further progress. Every kilowatt-hour of renewable energy used to replace lost Diablo electricity is a kilowatt-hour that is not available to displace fossil fuels from the grid.
The economic losses from Diablo Canyon’s premature closure will also be substantial. Electricity rates will rise from the replacement of cheap nuclear power with more expensive renewable power. According to the Joint Proposal, ratepayers will pay a “non-bypassable charge” to make good decommissioning costs that would have been funded had Diablo completed a typical 60-year service life. San Luis Obispo and Santa Barbara counties will lose $27 million per year in local tax, 1,500 well-paying jobs at the plant and a yearly payroll of over $200 million that indirectly supports a further 2,800 local jobs.
These problems are all familiar from the closure of the San Onofre nuclear plant a few years ago.
Despite environmentalists’ hopes, San Onofre was replaced mainly by gas-fired generation. Greenhouse emissions and electricity rates increased. California’s share of gas-fired generation immediately rose from 45 percent to 61 percent; the loss of San Onofre thus increased the state’s dependency on natural gas and worsened this summer’s Aliso Canyon gas-storage crisis.
That gas dependency will increase further, to 70 percent or more, if Diablo Canyon closes. When natural gas prices rise again, higher dependency will mean economic vulnerability as well—and undermine California’s reputation as a leader on climate policy. Under your own administration, the percent of electricity generated in-state from clean sources declined, mostly because of San Onofre’s closure. If Diablo retires too in coming years, the state will make no progress on cleaning up its power supply, and may well continue going backwards.
Given the serious harm to the environment, the economy and ratepayer interests that will flow from Diablo’s closure, we are deeply troubled by the lack of democratic process surrounding the Joint Proposal. It was decided in secret negotiations between PG&E and unaccountable anti-nuclear groups, some with financial ties to the renewables sector. Sending this proposal to the CPUC, an institution that is struggling with its own crisis of credibility relating to improper relationships with regulated industries, would raise further doubts about the legitimacy of the proceedings.
The CPUC is not the right forum to decide on this important matter, nor is a back-room deal dictated by special interests an appropriate framework for that decision. The loss of one-fifth of California’s clean electricity is of such significance as to merit the direct attention of the state legislature. These questions deserve a broad, considered and transparent discussion by the public and their elected representatives. We ask you to support this position, and to help initiate the public debate that needs to happen.
The global share of clean energy is declining in part because nuclear plants are being driven off the grids of advanced nations by unfair policies based on hyperbole and myth. The scientific consensus recognizes nuclear power as the safest way to make reliable electricity. It would be a tragedy if we were to allow irrational fear to harm the climate and endanger the future our children and grandchildren. As California’s governor you have an opportunity to safeguard your environmental legacy by overcoming anti-nuclear prejudice that is jeopardizing our progress on clean energy.
We look forward to hearing from you.
Brand, Stewart, founder, Whole Earth Catalogue
Conca, James, Earth and Environmental Scientist
Ellis, Erle C., Ph.D, Professor, Geography & Environmental Systems
Hansen, James, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Kharecha, Pushker, Climate Science, Awareness, and Solutions Program, Columbia University, Earth Institute, Columbia University
Scholars, Conservationists and Environmentalists
Carl, Jeremy, Research Fellow, Hoover Institution, Stanford University
Noss, Reed, Provost's Distinguished Research Professor, Department of Biology, University of Central Florida
Rampal, Brett, American Nuclear Society (ANS) , Young Members Group (YMG) Chair
Robbins, Paul, Director, Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies
Shellenberger, Michael, President, Environmental Progress
Terry, Jeff, Professor of Physics, Illinois Institute of Technology