On Halloween, PG&E took the next step in continuing the operation of Diablo Canyon by submitting its renewal application to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Committee (NRC). Diablo Canyon’s two units are scheduled to retire in 2024 and 2025.
“This request to renew our licenses is another step to help California reliably achieve its bold decarbonization goals,” said PG&E Chief Nuclear Officer Paula Geffen.
PG&E’s application does not come as a surprise. In September, Governor Newsom signed a bill that gave the utility a $1.4 billion loan to help extend the life plant. The law calls for the Department of Water Resources to issue up to a $1.4 billion loan to PG&E for the extension. The bill also asks the California Energy Commission to present a cost comparison and operations assessment of the Diablo Canyon powerplant by late 2023. It also invalidates a 2018 CPUC decision that initially allowed the plant to retire by 2025. The bill calls on the CPUC to extend the plant for five years and to spread the costs associated with the plant to all ESPs, CCAs and IOUs. It also extends the once-through cooling exemption for Diablo Canyon until the end of 2030.
The application also comes just one month after PG&E announced plans to create a second company called Pacific Generation which holds the hydropower and other non-nuclear generating assets. A portion of Pacific Generation would be available to investors with the revenue used for capital investment. This also put to rest rumors that Diablo Canyon would be put up for sale.
While the Governor supports the extension, the 2,200-megawatt Diablo Canyon plant is still far from approval. In its filing, PG&E asked NRC to continue where it left off in the application process in 2018. That is when PG&E withdrew the application after reaching agreements with environmental groups to close the plant in 2025 and replace it with solar and other renewable energy. PG & E is hoping to continue the application process with the required updates so that the review can be completed within the next two years.
However, that timetable could close one, if not both, units before the approval processes are complete. Also, the previous application asked for an extension to 2045. That is much longer than Governor Newsom’s request for the facility to operate until 2030, potentially extending to 2035.
To address the issue of the review process exceeding the existing MRC permits of 2024 and 2025, PG&E requested the NRC allow Diablo Canyon to continue operations while the application is being reviewed.
Aside from NRC approval, other agencies will have to review the extension of Diablo Canyon, including the federal Department of Energy and FERC as well as state entities such as CEC, CPUC, California Coastal Commission, State Lands Commission, and California Department of Water Resources.