Monday, May 6, 2024







        Give then an inch, went the old saying about the once-dynastic New York Yankees baseball team, and they’ll take a mile.



        Now it seems that Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has become the same sort of unbeatable organization as the old Yankees, surviving negligence judgements, a manslaughter conviction stemming from wildfires it caused, two bankruptcies and multi-billion dollar fines to emerge as an even more ambitious and rapacious company than before.



        That can be seen in the firm’s latest move on extending the life of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power plant, which has seen no dangerous incidents since 1985 despite sitting near a network of well-documented but so-far-quiescent earthquake faults. This will be financed with higher rates for almost all Californians, not only PG&E customers.



        Diablo is the state’s last functioning nuclear facility, having survived other plants at Humboldt Bay, Rancho Seco and San Onofre.



        The plant was slated to shut down next year, making way for its replacement in the state’s electric grid by renewable energy sources, from wind farms to desert-area solar thermal plants to increased hydroelectric production and vastly more rooftop solar panels.



        A lot of that alternative energy is not coming on line as early as expected by ex-Govs. Jerry Brown and Arnold Schwarzenegger, who both figured Diablo would close next year.



        Under current Gov. Gavin Newsom, it became clear renewables are not increasing at a pace to keep the grid sufficiently supplied with power unless Diablo stays open awhile longer.



        So the plant, on the coast north of San Luis Obispo, remains operative and now PG&E. which added a new Diablo charge to the electric bill of every utility customer in the state not using a municipally owned electric company, will now stay open until at least until 2030.



        That was supposed to be a very firm deadline by which renewables would have to be online in quantities sufficient to make up for Diablo’s 2,240 megawatts and then some. That’s 17 percent of all zero carbon power in the California inventory, and 9 percent of all electricity produced in the state.



        But now PG&E is asking the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) for a full 20 more years of operation at Diablo.



        “You can’t fault them for trying,” said David Weisman, executive director of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility Legal Fund, which once thought its work for a Diablo shutdown was all but accomplished. “They always do.”



        The problem, he says, is that 20 more years of Diablo operations would contravene state law.



        Besides that, he said, there’s this question: If keeping Diablo open an extra five years has already added substantially to California’s highest-in-the-lower-48-states electric rates, how much will 15 years more cost for retrofits and other safety improvements?



        Whatever the eventual figure, and PG&E hasn’t yet given an amount, customers will pay even more than now, when many have just been assessed increases in the $30 per month range.



         Said Weisman, “There is inevitably going to be a cost difference between a machine that needs to last five more years and a machine that needs to last 20.”



        Then there’s the question of safety, never really questioned by nuclear advocates like Californians for Green Nuclear Energy, whose leader, Gene Nelson, resides less than 10 air miles from Diablo.



        Said Dianne Curran, attorney for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace and an opponent of Diablo extensions, “the NRC must ensure that (extending Diablo) does not pose a significant risk for public health and safety or the environment.”



        She is asking new hearings by the NRC to determine both safety and whether the longer extension is really needed to maintain California electricity supplies.



        Ultimately, it may be judges in the federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals who decide the plant's future. They will have to consider an assessment by a top NRC safety investigator that called for closure due to quake hazards.



        This dispute will likely run years into the future, during which California’s Public Utilities Commission would do well to reconsider its recent reductions in payments from utilities to homeowners for spare power from rooftop panels, reductions that instantly lowered solar energy expansion in California.




    Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough, The Most Promising Cancer Treatment and the Government’s Campaign to Squelch It," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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