Saturday, May 25, 2024

U.S. Ponies Up $1B to Keep California’s Last Nuclear Plant Humming

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The Biden Administration announced this week that it had reached preliminary approval to allocate at least $1.1 billion in an effort to keep California’s sole remaining nuclear power plant running.

The Energy Department says that it is negotiating final terms for the Diablo Canyon Power Plant on the central coast of California to remain open and avoid its 2025 end date, according to the Associated Press. The plant was selected in the first round of funding for the administration’s new civil nuclear credit program, which is intended to help owners or operators of the nation’s last nuclear plants help cover the costs of preserving the existing U.S. reactor fleet. Applicants must not only demonstrate that closure of their plant could directly lead to economic suffering, but also that carbon emission and air pollutant levels will rise without their continued operation.

The program is part of Biden’s aggressive campaign to cut greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030, as compared to 2005 levels.

All in all, the bipartisan bill had dedicated $6 billion toward that end. The Diablo Canyon plant will be the first to receive funding from the program, with the additional benefit—aside from remaining open—of preserving an estimated 1,500 clean energy jobs.

“This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation’s largest source of clean electricity,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm said in a statement. “Nuclear energy will help us meet President Biden’s climate goals, and with these historic investments in clean energy, we can protect these facilities and the communities they serve.”

The announcement of the Diablo Canyon grant came just after the Energy Department denied aid to the Palisades plant along Lake Michigan. The plant—which had run for more than 50 years—was shut down last spring.

The owners and operators of the plant, Holtec International, announced on Twitter that their application had been denied by the department.

Unfortunate news regarding our attempts to repower @PalisadesEnergy plant in Michigan.

— Holtec International (@holtecintl) November 18, 2022

Additionally, Holtec spokesperson Patrick O’Brien released a statement to The Herald-Palladium regarding the rejection.

“We appreciate the consideration that the Department of Energy (DOE) put into our application for the Civilian Nuclear Credit program,” O’Brien said. “We fully understood that what we were attempting to do, re-starting a shuttered nuclear plant, would be both a challenge and a first for the nuclear industry.”

However, it seems the Energy Department and California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s combined effort would serve as a catalyst in achieving that first. Newsom has said that keeping it running beyond 2025 is “critical to ensure statewide energy system reliability” in the midst of increasing pressures on energy by climate change.

Newsom initially signed legislation in September to carve out a way for the plant to run an additional five years. One of the main concerns he cited was preventing possible blackouts as the state begins efforts to lean toward solar, wind, and other renewable energy sources.

He expressed his appreciation for the funding Monday, adding, “California is focused on meeting our bold climate and clean energy goals.”

“This investment creates a path forward for a limited-term extension of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant to support reliability statewide and provide an onramp for more clean energy projects to come online,” Newsom said.

“I thank the Biden-Harris Administration for this critical support and the California Legislature for moving quickly to make this award possible. I look forward to our continued work together to build a clean, affordable and reliable energy future for our state.”

The Diablo Canyon Power Plant produces nine percent of California’s electricity. For comparison, the wind power provides roughly seven percent of the state’s electricity, while solar makes up nearly 14 percent of the total.

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