UPDATE: IntegritySLO posted a video from the San Luis Obispo Tribune featuring Supervisor Hill talking about the desalination project where he discussed the project with two PG&E officials at his home for lunch. The SLO Truth page was tagged with the video. Still no “election scam.” Sorry.
There’s been a lot of discussion about the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant closing down in 2025. To recap, Pacific Gas & Electric announced on June 21 that the plant will close down as part of a transition to renewable energy sources. There are some who believe the plant is safe and that nuclear power is a sufficient energy source. There are some who are concerned about the loss of revenue that the plant generated for San Luis Obispo County. Some are concerned that the head-of-household jobs created by the plant are irreplaceable. Some feel like county leaders haven’t done enough to support the plant and challenge PG&E’s decision to not extend the plant’s licensing.
There are a lot of perspectives here that should be taken into account, but there are some important facts to consider:
On Oct. 7, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law one of the country’s most ambitious renewable energy bills. Senate Bill 350 issued a mandate for state-regulated utilities to get at least 50 percent of their electricity from renewable sources — including wind, solar and hydro — by 2030. In a press released dated Oct. 7, 2015, PG&E supported the legislation, stating that they “appreciate the flexibility the new law provides on banking of excess renewable procurement, which will provide for greater opportunities to secure the best renewable energy pricing available on the market for utility customers.” At no point in the legislation-making progress did PG&E oppose the bill, though opponents of the plant’s closure claimed the company buckled under “political pressure.”
San Luis Obispo city councilman and District 3 Supervisor candidate Dan Carpenter stated that PG&E acknowledged in their announcement that it will be “unable to meet the renewable mandates by the state and had no other choice but to abandon nuclear energy production for a malaise of renewables.” When contacted to confirm Carpenter’s comment, PG&E referred me to their announcement from June 21 and rebuked the assertion that renewable were a “malaise.” There is nothing in the announcement itself from PG&E, claiming they would be unable to meet the state’s renewable mandates. PG&E stated that it would take years to procure, construct and implement a greenhouse gas free portfolio of renewable energy, but nowhere did they say in their announcement or their joint proposal that it was impossible.
Opponents of the plant shutdown have claimed the switch to renewable energy will not adequately replace the 2,200-megawatt nuclear plant, though PG&E stated the plant’s full output will no longer be required if the joint proposal is approved.
Given the state mandate, the plant’s long-term stability issues and concerns about their management of nuclear waste, it’s not inconceivable or unrealistic to plan for a post-Diablo county. County leaders have already begun to outline plans for adjustment and PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant Retention Program is in the process of launching a restraining and development plant that will redeploy personnel for the decommissioning process and other positions within the company. Yet there’s reason to exercise caution. There is community consensus on one critical point: We cannot minimize the economic consequences. There is broad acknowledgement that the county needs to double their efforts to create an economy that provides high-paying, head-of-household jobs for affected employees.
Instead of planning for the future, some are playing politics.
County leaders have looked to investing in a desalination partnership with PG&E that could benefit South County residents. The partnership would rely on PG&E providing a permanent source of water from the Diablo Canyon desalination plant. According to SLO County Public Works Director Wade Horton, PG&E continuously assured the county that desalinated water would be available beyond the plant’s shutdown, whether the shutdown took place in 2025 or 2045. However, PG&E ruled out desalination as a viable option.
This led to a harebrained conspiracy theory perpetuated by Dan Carpenter and former Grover Beach mayor Debbie Peterson. The theory? Their opponent, District 3 Supervisor Adam Hill, met with an undisclosed PG&E at his home and was told “yes” by said executive that a desalination partnership would happen. Allegedly acting on his nefarious plan, Hill pushed the board to allocate $900,000 from the Flood Control District to explore the desalination project — all the while knowing that the partnership was “never planned to happen” and it was “never anything more than an election scam,” according to Peterson who spoke to an undisclosed “Adam Hill insider.” The “election scam,” writes Peterson, is that PG&E “waited until after Hill got through the June 7 primary election to announce the Diablo nuclear plant would be shutting down in 2025 and that PG&E would be breaking its promise to continue with the desal project.”
Suffice to say, there’s no evidence to back the conspiracy theory. A cursory review of board minutes and county records do not show, at any point, that Hill publicly stated any collaboration with PG&E staff at his home. At the Aug. 25, 2015 County Board of Supervisors meeting, the board unanimously voted on staff recommendation to “direct staff to move forward on a parallel track to develop, in concert with PG&E, an emergency project to make desalinated water available to South County communities in the event of continued drought conditions.” Though Peterson portrays Hill as the sole force to push the desalination partnership through, records show the county received constant assurances by PG&E that the partnership would move forward. Though approximately $900,000 was allocated to analyze the feasibility of PG&E’s desalination partnership, only $75,750 of that allocation was spent. This boldly contradicts Peterson’s claim that PG&E and Hill “conned their community out of nearly $1.5 million.”
We must recognize the economic and energy impact of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant shutting down. To appreciate that significance, we need to focus on a viable path forward instead of irresponsibly blaming a state mandate-motivated corporate decision on one county supervisor. We have nine years to craft plans and policies that will help SLO County survive a post-Diablo future, and that’s something our county should have prepared for before PG&E made their announcement. Not much disagreement there. The county has a nine-year head start to rise to challenges ahead, and it’s a disservice to residents, community leaders and PG&E employees to obstruct with partisan lies at the starting line.