by Michael Shellenberger
Diablo Canyon will be mostly replaced by natural gas and emissions will increase if the Joint Proposal by PG&E, IBEW 1245, and anti-nuclear groups is approved by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and upheld by the courts.
Further, the percentage of electricity PG&E derives from low-carbon energy sources will decline from 58 to 55 percent.
The Proposal claims it will replace the 17,660 gigawatt-hours of low-carbon electricity produced by Diablo Canyon with an equal amount of low-carbon electricity, but the details of the Proposal make clear that will not happen. The Proposal’s specifics mandate:
1) 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year of reduced energy consumption through energy efficiency by 2025;
2) Another 2,000 gigawatt-hours per year of “GHG free energy resources or energy efficiency” to come on line by 2025;
3) There is no 3.
That’s it: 4,000 gigawatt-hours per year of (mostly) energy efficiency and (maybe) renewable power to replace 17,660 gigawatt-hours from Diablo Canyon.
Where will the remaining 13,660 gigawatt-hours come from? The Proposal doesn’t say, but the only source it can come from is natural gas.
And with all of that natural gas will come 5.4 million tons of extra carbon dioxide emissions every year.
What about energy storage? The Proposal itself admits, “energy storage, by itself, is not a source of energy,” which may be why it doesn’t bother setting storage targets.
What about the 55 percent (of PG&E sales) Renewable Portfolio Standard by 2031 (to last through 2045)?
That sounds good, but it starts 6 years after Diablo Canyon would close, and it’s actually a stepdown from PG&E’s current GHG free share of generation, which was 58 percent last year.
So all the efficiency and renewables the Proposal mandates—or vaguely promises—would leave PG&E’s energy mix slightly dirtier in 2045 than it was in 2015—no progress at all for 30 years because of Diablo’s closure.
And while it might constitute a nominal replacement (almost) of Diablo Canyon, it would likely come by buying Renewable Energy Certificates from out-of-state renewable plants, leaving California’s in-state generation markedly dirtier. Under that RPS mechanism, California has met its nominal renewables targets even as the GHG free share of in-state electricity generation has fallen by 20 percent over the last decade.
The reason the Proposal doesn’t call for replacing Diablo with renewable energy is simple: California’s grid can’t handle it. The state is already struggling to integrate intermittent renewable power, and is having to curtail mid-day surges of solar to avoid destabilizing the grid.
The Proposal acknowledges that Diablo must be closed to make room for curtailed solar. (Of course, replacing clean nuclear power with clean solar power does nothing for the climate, although its great for the solar industry.)
But it also states that closure will “impact the efficient and reliable balancing of load,” which means blackout risk. That’s why the Proposal is careful not to mandate any more destabilizing solar or wind—and leaves the door wide open for reliable gas generation.
Which leaves load reduction through energy efficiency as the main (though woefully inadequate) green component of both the Proposal and PG&E’s forecasts. But while energy efficiency is great, load reduction is plumb stupid as climate policy.
Grid electricity is the easiest part of the energy supply to decarbonize, so we should be using more electricity—for transport, heating and other purposes—not less; PG&E’s generation should grow mightily to accommodate all the Tesla’s and Volts Californian’s could be driving on electricity from Diablo Canyon. The Proposal’s prescription for grid austerity marks a disastrous wrong turn for California energy policy.
All of this fits a growing pattern. Despite green groups’ claims that nuclear power can be easily replaced by wind, solar and energy efficiency, recently closed plants from Vermont Yankee to California’s San Onofre have been replaced overwhelmingly with fossil-fueled power. With Diablo Canyon, at least they are admitting ahead of time that renewables can’t do the job.
Read More: Why Diablo Canyon Will Live — and the Corrupt Proposal to Kill It Will Fail