California Utility Says Clean Energy Will Replace Power From State’s Last Nuclear Plant

Aerial view of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant which sits on the edge of the Pacific Ocean at Avila Beach in San Luis Obispo County, California on March 17, 2011. Some of America's nuclear power plants loom near big city populations, or perch perilously close to earthquake fault lines. Others have aged past their expiration dates but keep churning anyway. President Barack Obama has demanded that the 104 nuclear reactors at 65 sites get a second look as scientists warn that current regulatory standards don't protect the US public from the kind of atomic fallout facing quake-hit Japan. AFP PHOTO/Mark RALSTON (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

If state regulators agree, Pacific Gas and Electric will retire its Diablo Canyon plant and rely on renewables, energy efficiency savings and storage.

Diablo Canyon, California’s last remaining nuclear facility, will be retired within a decade if state regulators agree to a proposal by Pacific Gas and Electric Corporation and several environmental and labor organizations to replace its power production with clean energy.

The San Francisco-based utility said on Tuesday that it will ask state regulators to let operating licenses for two nuclear reactors at its Diablo Canyon power plant expire in 2024 and 2025. The utility said it would make up for the loss of power with a mix of energy efficiency, renewables and energy storage that would cost less than nuclear power.

“This is a new green yardstick for replacing every fossil fuel and nuclear plant in the world,” said S. David Freeman, a senior advisor with Friends of the Earth’s nuclear campaign, one of several groups making the announcement. “It’s not only cleaner and safer, but it’s cheaper.”

The Diablo nuclear power plant is one of many closing or scheduled to close around the country, but is the first with a commitment from a public utility not to increase carbon emissions when making up for the lost energy.

The proposal comes as the share of solar and wind power in California’s energy mix is rapidly increasing. In 2014, nearly 25 percent of retail electricity sales in California came from renewable sources. Utilities are bound by the state’s renewable portfolio standard policy to increase their share of electricity from renewables  to 50 percent by 2030.

PG&E said it would exceed the state mandate, raising its renewable energy target to 55 percent by 2031 as part of its proposal to close Diablo Canyon.

“California’s energy landscape is changing dramatically with energy efficiency, renewables and storage being central to the state’s energy policy,” PG&E chairman, chief executive and president Anthony Earley said in a statement. “As we make this transition, Diablo Canyon’s full output will no longer be required.”

As renewables ramp up, California is also using less energy. Legislation passed last September requires public utilities to double energy efficiency targets for retail customers by 2030. The policy is expected to reduce the state’s electricity needs by 25 percent in the next 15 years.

The Natural Resources Defense Council, which co-signed the joint proposal, estimated PG&E customers would save at least $1 billion.

“Energy efficiency and clean renewable energy from the wind and sun can replace aging nuclear plants—and this proves it,” NRDC president Rhea Suh wrote in a statement. “Nuclear power versus fossil fuels is a false choice based on yesterday’s options.”