California lawmakers overwhelmingly approved a five-year extension for the state’s last operating nuclear plant at Diablo Canyon on Wednesday as residents face a power crunch from a premature transition to renewable energy.
Senate Bill 846 made it through on the last day of the assembly’s legislative session, offering the plant a five-year lifeline beyond its initial decommission date set for 2025. Thirty-one senators voted in favor compared to just one who voted against.
The power plant at Diablo Canyon is not only California’s last remaining source of nuclear energy, the facility is the state’s largest producer of electricity. The plant generates nearly 9 percent of California’s electricity and 17 percent of its carbon-free power, with the Golden State importing more than a third of its energy needs from neighboring states.
Environmental author and advocate for the Diablo Canyon plant Michael Shellenberger took a victory lap in an early-morning Twitter post on Thursday declaring the extension a “victory of pro-civilization values.”
While the plant’s two reactors will continue operations through 2030, original plans for the site included six reactors that would have run simultaneously, with desalination processes to offer residents abundant water in the drought-stricken region.
No plans were approved on Wednesday to expand facilities to include the desalination efforts, though researchers at Stanford University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology concluded that such an expansion would dramatically increase the value of operations.
“Using Diablo Canyon as a power source for desalination could substantially augment fresh
water supplies to the state as a whole and to critically overdrafted basins regions such as the
Central Valley,” researchers wrote, adding that the volume of fresh water produced could rival that of major state projects “but at significantly lower investment cost.”
The nuclear-desalination operations could also be used to generate hydrogen as an emissions-free fuel, the only byproduct of which is water when consumed in a fuel cell to generate electricity.
Moreover, while the Democrats’ ill-named and inflation-increasing “Inflation Reduction Act” heavily subsidizes renewable energy, the legislation also gives handsome subsidies for hydrogen, which can be produced from nuclear power for as little as half the cost of wind and solar.
Democrat lawmakers, however, have shown little appetite to expand nuclear operations as Big Green interest groups such as the Sierra Club and the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) continue to oppose nuclear power and demand subsidies for weather-dependent solar panels and wind turbines.
The rush to fundamentally transform the power grid, which is already under stress from drought since low water levels reduce the generation of hydroelectricity, has led California into a series of routine blackouts. On Tuesday, the state pled with residents not to charge electric vehicles seven days after the state banned the sale of gas-powered cars beginning in 2035. It remains unclear whether lawmakers will extend nuclear operations at Diablo Canyon for another five years.