“Those of us living in San Diego County already pay the highest electrical rates in the nation, and they’ll go even higher with an added bill from Diablo Canyon cost.” –Senator Brian Jones
By Miriam Raftery
Photo: Diablo Canyon; Creative Commons license by Tracey Adams
September 9, 2022 (San Diego’s East County) – State Senator Brian Jones (R-Santee) has issued blistering condemnation of SB 846, a bill signed into law by Governor Gavin Newsom which aims to keep open the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant for five years beyond the scheduled 2025 closure date. But the bill also authorizes a $1.4 billion loan to the plant’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, and opens the door for potential rate hikes statewide.
“”I voted against electricity rate hikes and the $1.4 billion gift to PG&E – I did not vote against Diablo Canyon and nuclear power,” says Senator Jones, in an editorial sent to media outlets.
Jones was the only Senator to vote against the measure, which had only three no votes in the Assembly. He noted that Democratic leaders pushed forward the last-minute measure as a “take it or leave it” with “arm-twisting” by the Governor to cut deals along with the California Public Utilities Commisson, big corporations, and big utilities.
Diablo Canyon in San Louis Obispo is the state’s last operating nuclear power facility.It provides about 10% of the state’s electric power. But Jones asks why this bill was rushed through at 1:30 a.m. in the session’s closing hours, when the plant wasn’t slated to close until 2026. He suggests two “very concerning things that may also factor into the reason for the big rush to pass the complex measure before too many people had a chance to read it.”
First is a $1.4 billion “forgivable” loan to PG&E. “Given the cozy relationships between Governor Newsom, his appointees on the CPUC, and the executives at PG&E, does anyone really think the Governor will ever force the big utility to pay back the taxpayer-funded loan?” Jones asks.
His second concern is a clause buried in section 9 of SB 846 as “Authority for the CPUC to raise electricity rates for all ratepayers statewide, whether or not they receive any electricity generated by Diablo Canyon.” Jones objects, noting, “Those of us living in San DIegio County already pay the highest electrical rates in the nation, and they’ll go even higher with an added bill from Diablo Canyon cost.”
The bill was pushed through on the last night of the Legislative session this year. Supporters claim it’s critical to keep electricity on amid extreme heat, three straight days of Flex alerts and power outages this week across the state. The measure was signed just in time to meet a Sept. 6 deadline to apply for federal funding to keep the plant open, though it’s unknown yet whether that funding will be approved.
Newsom on Wednesday proclaimed a state of emergency due to the extreme heat, which broke all-time records. The California Independent System Operator, which manages the state’s power grid, supports keeping Diablo Canyon open through 2030. Elliott Mainzer, the grid operator’s president and CEO, stated, “We should ensure new sources of clean electric supply rae in place before retiring non-emitting generation that plays such an instrumental role supporting reliable electric service,” Cal Matters reports.
In his signing statement, Governor Gavin Newsom wrote, “Climate change is causing unprecedented stress on California’s energy system and I appreciate the Legislature’s action to maintain energy reliability as the State accelerates the transition to clean energy.”
Nuclear power is considered a clean fuel from the standpoint of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions, since it does not burn carbon. But it has raised environmental concerns following meltdowns at Fukishima and Chernobyl, as well as concerns over safe storage of spent nuclear fuel, potential terrorism, and impacts of an earthquake on a facility along California’s coast.
Ironically, Newsom has generally been an advocate of renewable energy resources such as wind and solar over nuclear, while Jones has been a supporter of nuclear power in the past.
Jones faults Democrats for falling short of enough green energy sources to avoid flex alerts and rolling blackouts, then pushing through a last-minute bill to address a seeming crisis.
He notes the scenario is “eerily similar” to AB 1890 back in 1996, an energy “deregulation” issue in the Enron era that was supposed to stabilize the energy market and lower rates. “This complex bill was thrown together at the last minute, and voted on the last night of a legislative session, with almost every Democrat and Republican legislator supporting it,” he recalls. “Unfortunately, a few years later the scheme unraveled, caused massive electricity hikes across th state, and led to the historic recall of Governor Gray Davis. It’s a shame when people fail to learn the lesson from history.”
He's not the only one with concerns.
Mark Toney, executive director of the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy organization, shared Jones’ concern. He calls the measure “a nightmare for ratepayers, a nightmare for taxpayers, and it’s a dream come true for PG&E shareholders.”
Alex Jackosn, director of American Clean Power California, a renewable energy industry organization, objected to the bill on grounds that he contends the state’s reliability needs could be met with renewables including wind, solar, geothermal and battery-powered energy storage systems.
Assemblymember Wendy Carrillo, a Democrat, called the last minute action on the controversial bill “frustrating” and “disrespectful to the process…What I would have liked is not to have reopened or extended the life of Diablo Canyon, but also creating more opportunities for wind, solar, hydrogen and other alternatives,” she added, Cal Matters reports.
But Jones concludes, “Expecting some of the know-it-alls in the California Legislature to get last-minute energy legislation right is like looking at fool’s gold – you’re bound to be disappointed in the end.”