Recently, the below email to Diablo Canyon workers landed in my in-box.
Aside: I subscribe to a lot of different mailing lists. End Aside.
It’s from Michael Shellenberger, the founder of Environmental Progress. Michael is a tireless and vocal advocate for nuclear power as a valuable tool for solving some of the world’s most wicked problems.
Read carefully and critically, his letter begs the question posed in the headline; do the reported “rumors” indicate that Diablo Canyon employees are being used while PG&E managers negotiate a deal to close Diablo Canyon?
Will PG&E follow the California precedent set by Southern California Edison and decide that an early nuclear power plant closure is the easiest path for company executives to take in the face of strong political opposition? Are its executives working with politicians, appointed state environmental regulators and public utility commissioners to find a way to make sure that shareholders are made whole, while all other stakeholders pay the price?
Full text of May 30 email from Shellenberger to Diablo Canyon employees:
Dear employee of Diablo Canyon,
I am writing to let you know I have learned that PG&E will announce its decision to close Diablo Canyon later this summer, not long after the criminal trial against PG&E executives ends.
But I have also learned that Governor Jerry Brown, who used to oppose the plant — indeed, spoke at an anti-Diablo Canyon rally in 1979 — is becoming increasingly concerned that his legacy as a leader on climate change will be undermined by Diablo Canyon’s closure. That concern grew after the Alison Canyon methane leak, and the potential for brown-outs this summer.
Tomorrow night I will be at the Tap It Brewery in San Luis Obispo at 5:30 pm to share more specific information with you.
Since I launched Save Diablo Canyon in late January, several individuals have contacted me to share information they are hearing. I feel confident that the information I am receiving is accurate, for several reasons.
First, all of the individuals are in key positions in key institutions to know what is happening with Diablo Canyon. All extremely credible individuals. They are doing so because they are upset that their own institutions are in one way or another contributing to the closure of Diablo Canyon.
Second, the information I am receiving is consistent. The only information that disconfirms what I am hearing from my sources is the official position by PG&E management that the company has not yet made a decision.
The strongest defenders of Diablo Canyon inside PG&E appear to now be resigned to the plant’s closure. Two and half years ago, someone high up in PG&E leadership warned one of my sources that PG&E would likely shut down Diablo Canyon if there was no outside pressure brought to bear in support of the plant. Today, the same executive is discouraging outside pressure, fearing that it will rile up Diablo Canyon workers.
There are several uncertainties.
I have heard from one source that PG&E struck a deal with members of the California Lands Commission to receive an extension of PG&E’s licenses to operate on state land in exchange for not seeking re-licensing of Diablo Canyon by NRC after 2024/2025.
However, other better-placed sources told me more recently that suggests PG&E will announce a closure of Diablo Canyon well before 2024/25 — perhaps as early as 2017 or 2018.
On June 28, the California State Lands Commission will decide whether or not to require PG&E to undergo a full environmental impact review, which would take at least a year, before extending leases for PG&E to continue using state land. An environmental impact review could show Diablo Canyon is positive light, given it produces zero-pollution, including carbon emissions.
But my sources tell me that if the Lands Commission ordered an environmental review, PG&E would almost certainly close the plant, rather than go through the review process.
PG&E and IBEW, which works extremely close with PG&E executives, appear to be seeking an extension of the leases from the Lands Commission. But it is impossible to know what PG&E and IBEW are telling Gavin Newsom and other commissioners behind closed doors.
Newsom, who has long been close with PG&E, may be giving the company the justification it wants to close the plant. “I don’t think that PG&E, in its quiet moments, would disagree that this may not have been the ideal site for a plant,” Newsom said on December 18.
I am told that PG&E has several motivations for closing Diablo Canyon.
First and foremost, anti-nuclear groups and anti-nuclear state officials are putting intense pressure on PG&E and the regulators. These officials include the chairman of the CPUC, who has been an anti-nuclear activist since the 1970s, and the chairman of the CEC, a long-time renewables advocate.
Friends of the Earth (FOE) has sued PG&E over continued operation of Diablo Canyon, and I am told FOE received a significant influx of money to hire lawyers to sue nuclear plants around the country after successfully forcing the closure of San Onofre. Indeed, FOE sued Entergy last week in an effort to shut down New York’s Indian Point.
More mainstream anti-nuclear groups are worried they will be blamed for increase carbon emissions if Diablo is closed, and so they have mostly operated behind the scenes, giving the green-light to regulators and others but making few public statements.
NRDC, which has sued PG&E several times over Diablo Canyon in the past, has said publicly that there is no need for baseload power and that nuclear is closing down because it is uneconomical, thus signaling to regulators and lawmakers that Diablo Canyon should be shut down.
A Sierra Club director recently called for closing Diablo Canyon in the Sacramento Bee, even as its executive director told a Wall Street Journal reporter that they are having an internal debate over the issue.
Second, PG&E is under pressure to close Diablo Canyon to meet California’s renewable energy mandates. A huge amount of inflexible, baseload power on the grid is an obstacle to scaling up solar and wind, which needs the flexibility of natural gas plants to follow load. This is related to the reason above, since the mandates were lobbied for by environmental groups.
Third, many PG&E executives view Diablo Canyon as a huge hassle compared to simply operating a natural gas power plant. I am told that the previous CEO of PG&E, Peter Darbee, tried to shut down Diablo Canyon, but was over-ruled by the board.
Here are a few observations based on the information I have received.
First, what’s at stake here is more than 1,500 jobs, more air pollution, and energy sprawl. What’s at stake is whether we as a society give in to fear-mongering and ideology. Californians have been hostile to nuclear in general and Diablo Canyon in particular. But the state also sided with science when it decided to disallow parents to send their unvaccinated children to school.
Second, Governor Jerry Brown remains the key to saving Diablo Canyon. He made the wrong choice in 1979 when he came out out against diablo. Since then he acknowledged he might have been wrong. The Governor has everything to gain and nothing to lose by trying to keep Diablo Canyon open. If he lets Diablo Canyon close, his climate legacy will be ruined.
Third, the anti-nuclear groups have to be held accountable. Those individuals and groups trying to kill Diablo Canyon and replace it with natural gas and solar farms that require 150 times more land should be called what they are: anti-environmentalists, not environmentalists. They should be publicly denounced, and protested.
Fourth, I believe Diablo Canyon can still be saved, but only if Diablo Canyon workers and pro-nuclear environmentalists step up their game. Nobody will want to save Diablo Canyon if they don’t see Diablo Canyon workers trying to save Diablo Canyon.
The problem facing Diablo Canyon and many other nuclear plants is that they are undervalued first by the society, then by public policies, and then by the market. We have to increase their value in the society, change public policies, in order for nuclear to be treated as the highly valuable resources that they are.
There are many scenarios for Diablo Canyon to be saved, and operate until 2065 (since the plant is a strong contender to run for 80 years). For example, Warren Buffett could buy PG&E. But for him to keep Diablo Canyon running, he would need to see that there’s a growing movement to save it.
I’ll end by saying that this summer may be our last chance to save Diablo Canyon. I encourage you to consider how you will look back on this moment 10, 20 and 30 years in the future. Will you be able to tell your children and grandchildren you stood up and fought for what was right?
From June 24 – 28, I was scheduled to take my children (ages 16 and 10 years old) on a camping trip. Instead I decided to take them on the March for Environmental Hope! being jointly organized by Mothers for Nuclear, Save Diablo Canyon and my new group, Environmental Progress.
The March is being organized by Eric Meyer, a pro-nuclear environmentalist who quit his job as a labor organizer in Minnesota, three weeks ago, and moved all of his belongings to California, even though we could only offer him a three month contract, given our lack of funding, and our refusal to take any money from corporate donors.
Diablo Canyon is a special plant in a special place, and these are special times. Diablo Canyon is the plant that resulted in the environmental movement going from pro-nuclear to anti-nuclear — now it help motivate the environmental movement go from anti-nuclear to pro-nuclear.
I hope you’ll consider coming to the meeting tomorrow night, at the Tap it Brewery at 5:30, and making a commitment to participate in the March this June.
Yours in solidarity,