As most readers are likely aware, the Legislature recently passed Senate Bill 846, which aims to extend the Diablo Canyon nuclear powerplant (Diablo Canyon) to 2030. The Governor quickly signed the legislation that largely mirrored the draft legislation that he had first proposed. But those who believe that the extension is now a done deal should take a closer look at the various opportunities specifically established by the legislation where the extension could be quietly shelved either by the Governor or by various federal and state agencies. The legislation also establishes several public processes where opponents may eventually block the extension.
The initial proposal to extend Diablo Canyon came from Governor's office in mid-August. While the bill ultimately received bipartisan support in a 69-3 vote in the Assembly and a 31-1 vote in the Senate, numerous legislators expressed frustration stemming from the last-minute introduction of the bill and several significant changes made through the legislative process to address the concerns of various legislators with the initial proposal. Most importantly, these changes include a number of preconditions that must be achieved prior to Diablo Canyon's extension – essentially providing extension opponents new venues beyond the Legislature to try to fight the extension or allowing Governor Newsom or these state and federal agencies to pull the plug on the extension at a later date.
First, the legislation expressly acknowledges that the new retirement dates for Diablo Canyon are conditioned on the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission extending the powerplant's operating licenses and receipt of U.S. Department of Energy funding. These processes are not slam dunks and pitfalls remain with each.
Second, the legislation expressly provides that the California Public Utilities Commission and the California Energy Commission may determine that operations at Diablo Canyon should not be extended. Opponents will use these venues to try to show that extension is not cost-effective or that reliability does not demand Diablo Canyon's extension.
We still think that the extension of Diablo Canyon will happen if the political will remains throughout the processes established in the new legislation. However, interested parties should monitor these various venues closely, especially if the political climate changes.