In summary

An MIT-Stanford study found that extending the operation of Diablo Canyon would cut energy sector carbon emissions.

By Jordan Cunningham

Assemblymember Jordan Cunningham, a Republican from San Luis Obispo, represents the 35th Assembly District.

Dawn Ortiz-Legg, Special to CalMatters

Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg, a Democrat, represents District 3 in San Luis Obispo County.

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 5th 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 the 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.

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