Equilibrium & Sustainability

California advances climate measures, votes to keep nuclear plant open

The Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant, south of Los Osos, Calif., is viewed Sept. 20, 2005. The California Energy Commission is holding a three-hour workshop focused on the state’s power needs in the climate change era and what role the power plant might have in maintaining reliable electricity. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant, File)

California state lawmakers passed an array of climate bills late Wednesday as their legislative session ticked to a close and amid an ongoing heat wave that threatens to cripple the state’s electricity grid.

While advancing several climate measures, legislators also voted to extend the shelf life of a fiercely disputed nuclear plant — a move supported by Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) as a reliable backup for California’s transition to clean energy. 

“On the whole, this session was a huge win for our environment and public health,” Laura Deehan, state director for the group Environment California, said in a statement while voicing her disappointment about the nuclear plant decision.

“We have no need for this potentially dangerous power source given the unstoppable momentum toward a state running on 100 percent clean, safe and renewable power — momentum that will only grow given other bills that passed,” Deehan added.

Among the legislation to receive a green light and head to Newsom’s desk for a signature is S.B. 1020, which would require 90 percent of the state’s electricity to come from clean energy sources by 2035 and 95 percent by 2040. Those are interim targets toward a 100 percent goal for 2045, and all electricity procured for state agencies would need to come from clean energy by 2035, according to the bill.

A second key item to get a go-ahead was S.B. 1137, which would prohibit oil drilling within 3,200 feet of places where residents live, work and learn, if signed into law. 

Other bills approved by the legislature would allocate significant funds to clean transportation and energy, establish a statewide carbon capture program and create an incentives-based plan to promote the use of sustainable aviation fuel.

Newsom has until Sept. 30 to sign or veto the legislation, although several of the items are part of his state climate package. 

“California is lighting the way to a bright future powered by renewable energy, including wind, solar, and battery storage,” Deehan said.

“We know we will see even hotter heat waves, more severe droughts, and fiercer wildfires if we don’t act on climate,” she added. “The legislature took significant steps today to change that trajectory for the better.”

California Environmental Voters, a progressive environmental advocacy group, described 2022 as “a breakthrough year on climate action” in a statement issued after the legislative session wrapped up.

“After years of inaction, 2022 is an unprecedented year of climate leadership,” the group stated, acknowledging that there is more work to be done.

While environmental organizations largely applauded the legislature’s decisions, many groups expressed disappointment about other measures that did not receive approval.

A proposal to establish stricter emissions reduction targets — A.B. 2133 — passed the state Senate but failed to do so in the Assembly.

That legislation would have required a decrease in statewide greenhouse gas emissions to at least 55 percent below 1990 levels by 2030 — a significant jump from current law, which requires a 40 percent reduction by that time.

Perhaps the most contentious item, however, was a bill that gave a lifeline to the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant — S.B. 846 — which passed by 31-1 in the state Senate and 69-3 in the Assembly late into the night on Wednesday.

If signed into law, the bill would invalidate a previously approved plan under which Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E) would retire the facility’s two units by 2024 and 2025. Instead, both units would be able to continue functioning until the end of 2030, per the text of the bill.

Earlier this month, Newsom proposed extending the plant’s life by five to 10 years, with the goal of maintaining a carbon-free, reliable power supply as the state transitions to solar, wind and other renewable sources of energy, The Associated Press reported.

Just hours prior to the legislature’s vote on Wednesday, Newsom declared a state of emergency and warned of possible strain on the state’s electricity grid this week due to an ongoing heat wave that has been scorching much of the West. The governor asked Californians to decrease their consumption between 4 p.m. and 9 p.m. to minimize risks of outages.

Despite California’s need for more carbon-free electricity, environmental groups largely oppose the idea of keeping Diablo Canyon open — questioning both its seismic safety and the fact that the proposal includes a forgivable loan for PG&E of up to $1.4 billion.

The days leading up to Wednesday’s vote involved intense lobbying from these organizations, while Newsom’s office was calling wavering legislators, the AP reported.

The 1960s-era plant, located halfway between Los Angeles and San Francisco, today generates about 9 percent of the state’s electricity, according to the AP. 

“I’m not a proponent of the Diablo Canyon power plant. But I am a proponent of keeping the lights on,” Democratic Assemblyman Chris Holden said during his arguments for a bill, as reported by the AP.

The Environmental Working Group — whose president, Ken Cook, is based in the Bay Area — slammed the decision, saying state legislators “voted to rush through a bailout bill for the facility.”

The group argued that pushing the bill through the legislature in the last week of the session did not give lawmakers sufficient time to determine whether the plant should continue operating.

“The rush by lawmakers and Gov. Newsom to keep Diablo Canyon running is dangerous and dumb and will only set back California’s drive to make solar and wind the prevailing sources of electricity in the state,” Cook said in a statement.

His organization, Cook added, intends to “explore every available opportunity — administratively, legally and policy-wise — to prevent the extended operation of Diablo Canyon.”

American Clean Power-California, a clean industry trade organization, characterized the Diablo Canyon vote as a reminder that the state must work to speed up its clean energy transition.

“The last ditch scramble to extend the life of Diablo Canyon must serve as a wakeup call for California,” a statement from the group said.

“To avoid prolonging expensive and inflexible facilities, and imposing those costs on ratepayers, the administration must accelerate the work of state agencies to site and permit new carbon-free resources,” the group added.

Tags California Climate plan Energy energy policy Gavin Newsom Gavin Newsom Nuclear energy nuclear power nuclear power plant

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