California’s last nuclear plant will close in 2025, state utility regulators confirmed Thursday, the latest blow to a declining industry that provides nearly two-thirds of America’s carbon-free electricity.
The California Public Utilities Commission unanimously decided to close the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant, even as the state embarks on one of the country’s most aggressive efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Pacific Gas and Electric Co. opened Diablo Canyon, the state’s largest power plant, in 1985 despite protests from environmentalists. Diablo Canyon supplies 9 percent of California’s electricity.
Once it closes, California won't have any nuclear plants for the foreseeable future. A state law prevents building more nuclear plants until the federal government devises a long-term solution to handle their waste.
“With this decision, we chart a new energy future by phasing out nuclear power here in California,” said commission President Michael Picker, according to the San Francisco Chronicle. “We’ve looked hard at all the arguments, and we agree the time has come.”
Pacific Gas had already announced it would close Diablo Canyon when its two federal operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025 as part of an agreement with environmental groups. Per the terms of that deal, Pacific Gas said it would transition Diablo Canyon to produce wind and solar power.
But the utility commission declined to endorse much of that agreement, approving less money to retain and retrain its employees, and providing no requirement that the plant’s nuclear power be replaced by renewable energy.
“What will happen in California is what we’ve seen happen in every other place when nuclear plants are taken offline,” said Rich Powell, executive director of ClearPath Foundation, which advocates for clean energy. “People say we will replace nuclear with renewables and efficiency standards, but it ends up getting replaced largely by unmitigated fossil fuels.”
“This anti-nuclear narrative that it can be so easily replaced really doesn't hold water,” Powell told the Washington Examiner.
The nuclear industry is facing numerous challenges.
All plans to build new nuclear plants in the U.S. have been canceled, except for one in Georgia.
Plant Vogtle, the only nuclear reactor under construction in the U.S., is years behind schedule and billions of dollars over budget. State regulators recently allowed the project to proceed on an updated cost projection and construction timeline.
Today, 60 percent of the carbon-free energy produced in the U.S. comes from the nation's existing 99 nuclear power plants. Nearly 20 percent of the nation’s electricity is provided by nuclear energy.
But the Energy Information Administration projects the share of nuclear in the country’s electricity grid to fall by nearly half through 2050, to 11 percent. The industry hopes investments in small, modular reactors can reduce costs and address safety and proliferation concerns.
The nuclear industry had hoped the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission would approve Energy Secretary Rick Perry’s plan to subsidize struggling coal and nuclear plants for their ability to store fuel on-site for 90 days, in a way that other power generators can't.
But FERC this week rejected the proposal, ruling there is not enough evidence to show the decline of coal and nuclear power is hampering the reliability and resilience of the electric grid.