Keep Diablo Canyon power plant open, support clean energy goals

November 16, 2021

Opinion by Jordan Cunningham and Dawn Ortiz-Legg to CalMatters

California has established itself as a global leader in the fight against climate change. It has set ambitious, economy-wide emission reduction targets and mandated that all of the state’s electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045.

These are aggressive goals, befitting the clout and resolve of the world’s fifth largest economy. Yet, we continue to see rising temperatures, record drought and intense wildfires.

What if everything California and the nation is doing to slow climate change just isn’t enough?

To reach our zero-carbon goals while maintaining system reliability and avoiding debilitating blackouts, we need a mix of clean energy sources — renewables like solar and wind power. We need aggressive investment in energy storage projects. And we need to revisit whether Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant should continue to operate another 10 years past its scheduled 2025 decommissioning.

There is a serious risk that we will not be able meet our emission reduction targets while maintaining grid reliability without Diablo Canyon. Merely replacing the clean power we lose from the plant will require 90,000 acres of development of renewable resources, even as the siting of new renewable energy plants and associated transmission have proven slow to develop and face substantial opposition. Keeping Diablo Canyon online would guard against these risks, and, if additional renewables are brought online, dramatically accelerate carbon reductions.

That is why so many leaders in the state have come together in bipartisan fashion to oppose closing Diablo Canyon, currently scheduled for 2025. Diablo Canyon is our largest producer of clean energy. Today, Diablo Canyon accounts for 15% of the state’s emission-free electricity production and 8% overall energy production.

Closing Diablo Canyon in 2025 would mean increasing our dependence on gas-fired power plants to keep the lights on during periods when renewables aren’t available, leading to greater CO2 emissions, not less. And it shouldn’t be overlooked that the closure would cost the Central Coast 1,200 good-paying jobs.

Solving our energy crisis does not mean abandoning our commitment to decarbonize. But we are taking a real gamble if we don’t focus on diversifying our energy portfolio. We need every carbon-free energy solution on the table, including solar, wind, geothermal, battery storage and nuclear power.

A new joint study from researchers at MIT and Stanford University has reassessed the potential contribution Diablo Canyon can make to meet this goal through the continued production of clean, safe and reliable electricity, as well as the potential to provide water desalination and produce clean hydrogen.

The MIT-Stanford study assessed the impact of an inclusive approach, combining Diablo Canyon’s electric power generation with the continued expansion of renewable clean energy sources. It found that extending the operation of Diablo Canyon to 2035 under a diversified approach would cut energy sector carbon emissions in the state by 11% compared to 2017 levels.

It also would save ratepayers billions – up to $2.6 billion if Diablo Canyon remained operational until 2035.

According to the study, Diablo Canyon has more to offer than clean, cost-effective electric power. It can be repurposed to produce both desalinated water and hydrogen – emission free.

A desalination complex at Diablo Canyon could produce up to 80 times the output of the state’s largest desalination plant currently in operation – at about half the cost. This would help mitigate our severe drought, ease shortages, and provide fresh water to our cities, suburbs and farms.

And as demand for hydrogen fuels grows, Diablo Canyon would be able to generate clean hydrogen at half the cost of solar- or wind-generated hydrogen.

To meet the challenge of climate change we need to deploy multiple sources of clean energy that, taken together, can achieve our zero-carbon goals. The last thing we should do is rush to shut down California’s largest single source of clean energy.

Jordan Cunningham, a Republican and Templeton resident, has represented the 35th District in the State Assembly since 2016. Dawn Ortiz-Legg, a Democrat and San Luis Obispo resident, represents District 3 on the San Luis Obispo County Board of Supervisors.


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Jorge Estrada

This debate is a waste of ratepayers money. The power plant is not going to shut down, it will be extended and then a location retrofitted for the next generation reactors. This job generating discussion has already happened on the East Coast and for starters moved their closing dates to 2050. If you like comity, watch Monty Python: It tis, it tisn’t, it tis, it tisn’t. etc.


“It can be repurposed to produce both desalinated water and hydrogen – emission free.”

Only by reducing or eliminating the power to the grid because it’s not magically making more power.


Hmm, let’s see how the SLO Progressives deal with this. And while more information has yet to be revealed or concealed, the new supervisor is a very calculated choice.


“information has yet to be revealed or concealed,”

Lol, her emails.


And you don’t have to pray for sunshine and clean the dirty panels or fix the oil leaking bird killing windmills….


“pray for sunshine” What a waste of time in sunny slo county and the brush on a stick and hose sprayer is so heavy, cleaning those panels is so hard /s.

Also what wind turbines leak oil? or methane?


Our local Topaz plant uses goats (very much so, a non-native animal that poops everywhere and anywhere) to keep weeds at a manageable level between panel sections. Not a bad idea, except now the dust level has increased 100%, lowering efficiency of the panels. With many hundreds of thousands of panels out there, occluded panels is a real problem for solar energy production. Also, goats love to climb. But, the only thing to climb on…are the glass faced panels. I quit counting the broken panels after I ran out of fingers, toes, and care. It would be months between contracts before I would return, and those same panels were still broken. We also noted a few collection shelters that were not able to operate, to send the panel power to the main sub-station. Also, also, towing around a huge water tank with a big truck with a smoke spewing diesel engine, only to waste precious desert water by letting it spill onto the ground to clean off “dirt”, has been looked down upon, well, since they found water in the desert. Topaz is generations from producing enough energy to pay for itself.

Yes, wind turbines use massive transmissions and gear boxes to spin the generator, not to mention to alter the blade angle in case of heavy wind (you know, because the turbines have a limited range of wind speed to operate in?). Those transmissions and gear boxes use a LOT of heavy oils and bearing grease that leak. The only way a maintenance team knows it is failing, is (hopefully) during a semi annual check, or noticing the spilled oil all over the shaft, base, and ground, or when the gear box is on fire. Funny thing though….the amount of energy, fuels, and material used to create a wind turbine, will never be equaled by that turbines energy production lifetime.


Just because one solar plant that may be mismanaged or run by calculating pencil pushers does not equal solar is not cost effective. That’s cherry picking, you found a mismanaged fast food place and now you think they all are the same across the world.

“.the amount of energy, fuels, and material used to create a wind turbine, will never be equaled by that turbines energy production lifetime.”

You don’t know what you are talking about, please stop spreading bullshit.


It should be repurposed as a THORIUM reactor by the State to generate electricity.

Thorium (90) has a radioactive half life of about 300 years, not 10s of thousands. It is manageable. It is not as dangerous..

More importantly

Thorium reactors would “eat” existing spent fuel and convert it to medical grade use. Safely We currently have no plan for the spent fuel that sits at Diablo or anywhere else. Thorium is that viable plan that produces usable electricity.

…what was the main reason a THORIUM reactor design wasn’t chosen by NRC for all electricity production in the 1960s?….no military grade, radioactive, byproducts were produced.

There is a place to meet on the middle.

Tyler Durden


Adam Trask

This is a great conversation which should have been held several years ago. In 1980, President Carter urged the nation to move away from fossil fuels (capping imported oil to 1977 limits). He was defeated in the ’80 election.

Ronald Reagan promptly removed the solar panels from the White House and left the gates open for big oil (oil companies have PROFITED more than $2 trillion since 1990). Nuclear is no longer a viable option. We need to be investing that same $2 trillion that big oil put in the their pockets on wind and solar. Nuclear is simply too dangerous with no way to store spent fuel.

I definitely applaud Mr. Cunningham and Ms. Ortiz-Legg for the bipartisan attempt. It is simply not the right solution. Money has to be spent up front if we are to avoid spending twice as much in the future for climate change catastrophes and the disaster caused by a loss of coastline.


Fukushima ~ 3 mile island ~ Chernobyl ~ there’s no way it could happen here, right?

Mr. Cunningham seems to be lobbying for PG&E who is responsible for Over 1,500 California fires in the past 6 years — including the deadliest ever, caused by one company: PG&E. We have an abundance of clean energy options now & shouldn’t accept corporate gluttony or deadly energy sources that you can never rid the planet of. Recertifying a plant that sits on a fault line? Brilliant! More proof profit is king. All the signs are there. But where does Mr. Cunningham get all the money to send out so much junk mail touting himself?

George Dunn

I sure wish our ancestors would have reacted the same way when they discovered fire. It is hot, it produces light (I’d rather it always be dark at night like nature intended), and allows for the cooking of meat. I prefer sushi to cooked meat, anyways.


There are some HUMONGOUS and CONTROVERSIAL hurdles to overcome if there is any hope of extending Diablo Canyon’s operation. 1. NUCLEAR RISK – From what I have gleaned from many years of close contact with PG&E nuclear operations, is that PG&E does NOT WANT to expose itself to nuclear risk beyond the current official shutdown dates. And nuclear risk is the mother of all concerns — who is willing to accept the financial and physical risks of a major nuclear event? 2. OWNERSHIP – Since PG&E apparently no longer wants to extend ownership for an extended 10 years of risk, would someone else purchase the plant? Aside from nuclear risk is mechanical risk — what happens if there is a major failure of the turbine/generator system and the resulting huge cost and delay of many months or years until the problem is fixed? 3. ONCE-THROUGH OCEAN COOLING WATER SYSTEM – California would have to relax its regulation on no direct discharge of warm ocean cooling water into the ocean. It is not practical or feasible to build a MAJOR on-land cooling water system (large mechanical draft or huge hyperbolic concrete cooling towers) which would take many years to construct and cost $ BILLIONS. 4. Lastly, there is the long NRC approval process of extending the plant’s license, as well as the plant having deal with obtaining new nuclear fuel, which their fuel contracts have most likely all been terminated for obtaining raw materials from mines in other countries. So, this is FAR FROM ANY EASY fix, if the state wants to continue Diablo operations. I’m sure there would be a fair amount of anti-nuclear movement again. Are we having fun yet?????????

Jon Tatro

This is the biggest no brainer of all time. Clean reliable energy which is already built and provides great paying jobs and tax base for the community. The liberals have to get out of their own way and take the win/win scenario right in front of their faces.

kevin rise

Jon, stop making this political please. Energy isn’t about politics or it shouldn’t be. It should be about facts. Here are some facts Jon. the USA was to have a superfund site for nuclear waste in 1970s nation wide, several proposed spots, mainly on Native Reservations sadly, we’re proposed, we still don’t. If diablo was retrofitted to modern standards, fine. But it’s antiquated and dangerous currently and is absolutely linked to leaking isotopes in teeth collected by local hospitals of Juveniles- Cuesta College, where I get my data, built by diablo fyi. This plant Was retrofitted in an ignorant manner years ago and uses dangerous fuel rods as someone here pointed out; please research, and you would need Billions in either taxes, grants or subsidies, and good luck with that. I agree, safe nuclear is a path forward as long as We the People own it, oversee it etc. Not a private entity, power should be a social commodity. Like roads, water, air. Diablo stores its spent rods on site in Geriatric Cooling ponds with high odds of failure. The plant is on a double fault too.

Jon Tatro

Please provide where you got the figure “Billions “ to retrofit Diablo. The government also already gives billions to the solar power industry in subsidies because without those subsidies no one would buy them.


-The solar ITC goes to the project owner not the industry at large, like you if you have them on your roof you get the credit, not halburton.

“because without those subsidies no one would buy them.”

Not true, after decades equipment costs have come down so much that non-profits, worship houses, trusts and others that can’t use tax credits can have a system that pays off in less than 6-10 years depending on details. Also can be done without chinese modules, for those who don’t want to support all that.


How can it be labeled clean, when The greatest scientific minds have been unable to find a way to safely dispose of Nuclear waste other than to cover it up. Take a look at the PG&E fallout map, from Monterey to LA would be affected. But those lucky enough to live close to Diablo will lose everything if not their lives. The Titanic, also super safe. Unsinkable! Let’s put a China shop on top of an Active overdue earthquake fault. But hey so worth it to save a few bucks. couldn’t happen to us tho…