By James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan, EON
No Sympathy for Diablo…or PG&E
Why is a convicted felon corporation, now in the throes of its second bankruptcy, being allowed to run an aged nuclear power plant in an earthquake zone at a yearly loss that could cost ratepayers a whopping $8 Billion by its scheduled shut down in 2025, when the electricity it produces is not even needed?
Why not shut it down now for both safety and financial reasons?
These are the urgent questions growing numbers of concerned citizens are demanding California Governor Gavin Newsom answer. Pacific Gas and Electric’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power station on the Pacific coast near San Luis Obispo, is the state’s ‘last nuke standing.”
Why The Nuclear Safety Ball is in Newsom’s Court
Newsom is in a position to decide the fate of both the failed utility and its obsolete and dangerous power plant in the next few months.
The issues involved in his deliberations were given a public airing on Feb. 15, 2020 at the “Shut Diablo Canyon 2020,” Conference organized by CodePINK‘s Cynthia Papermaster at the Historic Unitarian Universalist Hall in Berkeley, CA.
[Please scroll to the end of this article for video excerpts]
Papermaster and Author-Teacher Joanna Macy talked about practicing what Macy calls Active Hope in the growing campaign aimed at bringing about the early shutdown of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley described the serious safety issues surrounding long-term storage of tons of lethal radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site after it is shut down.
Attorney John Geesman and author-activist Harvey Wasserman and made the case for Governor Newsom to use his authority to shut down Pacific Gas & Electric’s aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant immediately, and to not allow it to operate for its scheduled five more years
They pointed out that PG&E – now in bankruptcy court for devastating California fires – also found criminally negligent in causing the lethal San Bruno gas explosion – is the only convicted felon being allowed to operate a dangerous nuclear plant.
Furthermore, PG&E ‘s own calculations show it operating Diablo Canyon at a billion dollar per year loss that the company is attempting to pass on to ratepayers and to CCAs.
PG&E’s current desperate ploy, explained energy democracy organizer Jessica Tovar of the Local Clean Energy Alliance, is to attempt to sell its un-needed nuclear electricity to CCA’s whose expressed purpose is to support the growth of clean, non-carbon based, non-nuclear energy.
Unsettling Truths Trigger A Change of Heart
Geesman is the former Executive Director and then Commissioner of the California Energy Commission and has been involved in litigating nuclear safety issues for decades. He explained how his organization, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, was a key party to the original agreement to shutter Diablo’ reactors in 2024 and 2024, but has now changed its mind on the basis of new data, and is advocating for Diablo Canyon’s immediate closure.
California ratepayers are unknowingly on the hook for billions of Diablo’s ‘Above Market Costs’
The new hard data that caused the Alliance’s reversal have been extracted from PG&E’s own projections of the ‘above market costs’ that would accrue from running Diablo’s reactors – essentially at a loss – until 2025..
As Geesman tells it, “I didn’t try and calculate these numbers myself. I asked PG&E, ‘well, how do you calculate it?’ And of course they wouldn’t answer it directly so you have to ask 30 questions to get the right answers and you add answer 11 to answer 14 to answer 23 and it turns out that in 2018 Diablo Canyon cost PG&E $410 million in above market costs, $410 million. That is a lot of money to most people.”
What are ‘Above Market Costs?’
In response to a question from the audience, Attorney Geesman explained the concept this way:
“PG&E has a choice: You can buy 2200 megawatts from the market, and the methodology establishes, well, how do you value that price? What value do you put on carbon offsets? What value do you put on resource adequacy, reliability?
“Or you can recover the costs that you’ve recorded at Diablo Canyon. In 2018 that delta was $410 million. In 2019 it jumped up to 1 billion or 1,186,000,000. In 2020 PG&E estimates it is $1,258,000,000.”
Geesman went on to wryly observe, “This is not really trending in the right direction from anybody’s standpoint and if it continues at the 2020 rate, by the time the plant closes, it will have accumulated a little more than $8 billion in above market costs.”
A key reason for that, Geesman explained, is that in the years since 2017 PG&E’s share of the electricity market has dropped by almost half – from 82% in that year to only 43% this year. And the key reason for that has been the exponential spread of Community Choice Aggregation, which is proving to be the nemesis of investor owned utilities (aptly termed IOUs ) like PG&E around the state.
“Because of CCAs,” said Geesman, “PG&E is losing customers hand over fist.” Geesman summarized that at PG&E’s current (and dropping) 43% of market share, “about three quarters of the plant’s output cannot be justified.”
PG&E’s Nuclear War on Community Choice Clean Energy
Community Choice Aggregation, or CCAs, emerged from the grassroots struggle to force reluctant utilities to choose safe energy sources. CCAs allow cities and counties to join together in Joint Power Authorities, aggregate their collective energy needs, then purchase at quantity prices and/or generate their own clean, renewably sourced energy.
(Full disclosure – EON campaigned for CCA’s in CA. See: Going Local: The Movement for Community Choice Energy & Community Choice )
PG&E has fought tooth and nail against the rise of CCAs, first by attempting to block them with legislation, then charging customers exorbitant ‘exit fees’ for switching over to their local CCA.
Geesman explained, “The [California] Public Utilities Commission, which most people would tell you is significantly less than an honest broker on these issues,” attempted to come to the aid of the threatened utility.
The CPUC, Geesman said “in an effort in 2018 to come up with another way to step on the windpipe of community choice aggregation, developed an exit fee methodology that for the first time was going to charge community choice aggregation customers their proportionate share for Diablo Canyon.”
The move, said Geesman, was “intended to be something of a poison pill for the organizations of the CCAs.”
Harvey Wasserman satirized, “Okay, you want to buy electricity from somewhere else? You’re going to pay us even after you’ve left us. It’s like you buy clothes at Walmart one week and then the next week you go to Target, but Walmart charges you a tax on what you’re buying at Target. It’s exactly what’s going on here. It’s beyond anything that makes any sense except for the corrupt payments of PG& E.”
Jessica Tovar explained that the reason her alliance pushed for a CCA was not only to replace PG&E as their source of electricity, but to have the money paid for their electricity put back into the community to pay for what could be called components of a green new deal. One of the examples she gave was to fund resiliency hubs that could serve the community during a power shut off. “We want to have true clean energy that we can see in our communities” Tovar explained.
PG&E has long been opposed to empowered local community ownership and in fact, since the 1920’s has led corporate attempts to squelch public ownership of key institutions, such as utilities and insurance.
Governor Newsom is the Decider
Pointing out that PG&E is not only in its second bankruptcy, but is “the only convicted felon being allowed to run a nuclear power plant,” Geesman concluded, “I … want to leave you with one conclusion and only one conclusion, we want to keep this as simple as possible. And that is the decision on whether or not to close this plant is going to be made in the next six months and it’s going to be made by one guy.
“His name is Gavin Newsom and he is accountable to each and every one of you, and frankly I think on energy matters he probably thinks that he is your friend and you are his friends. You are the core of his political base on energy issues.
“Don’t ever, ever forget that.
“He hasn’t made a choice yet because of the PG&E bankruptcy. If PG&E’s going to survive as a company, he’s going to have to say yes and there’s some very good reasons from a dollars and cents standpoint that if, in fact, they do survive, they certainly ought not to keep running Diablo Canyon.”
A Strategy for Forcing an Early Diablo Shutdown
Lifelong clean energy activist and Solartopia author Harvey Wasserman has been leading a petition campaign for months aimed at forcing a Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) inspection of the aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon reactors during one of the regularly scheduled shutdown of the reactors for refueling. So far, no inspection has happened.
With a refueling now scheduled for next fall, he is asking people to support his inspection petition here.
A National Conundrum – Now What Do We Do With the Waste?
There is currently no long-promised, but still non-existent national central repository for the tons of radioactive waste, accumulated from decades of operation, now ‘stranded’ at the nation’s over 100 reactor sites.
With at least nine other nuclear power plants scheduled to be shut down in coming months, and a cascade of other reactor shutdowns soon to follow, awareness is growing of the so far unsolved national conundrum shared by all reactor communities. California already has tons of lethal ‘stranded’ waste at Humboldt Bay, Rancho Seco and now at San Onofre.
Based on her decades of work on nuclear safety issues, Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley laid out the serious risks surrounding long-term storage of the tons of radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site both now after it is shut down.
“Our job now is to make sure the waste is stored in the best way humanly possible.” And right now, “We don’t know that (the current 1/2 inch stainless steel radioactive waste containers) are ok because they can’t be inspected!”
Choices made at Diablo could well set the standard for nuclear waste management across the country as more of the US fleet of aged reactors are shutdown in coming years.
Governor Gavin Newsom has many balls in his court. The key take-home from this event is, let him know what YOU think about this issue.
You can contact Governor Gavin Newsom by e-mail at:
Governor Gavin Newsom
1303 10th Street, Suite 1173
Sacramento, CA 95814
Phone: (916) 445-2841
Fax: (916) 558-3160
Pt. 1 Practicing Active Hope – Papermaster & Macy
Conference organizer Cynthia Papermaster and Author-Teacher Joanna Macy apply the concept of Active Hope to bringing about the early shutdown of Diablo Canyon nuclear plant.
Pt. 2 – Nuclear Waste at Diablo – Linda Seeley
Mothers for Peace Spokesperson Linda Seeley describes the serious safety issues surrounding long-term storage of tons of radioactive waste at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon reactor site after it is shut down. Choices made at Diablo could set the standard for nuclear waste management across the country as more of the US fleet of aged reactors are shutdown in coming years.
Pt 3 – Shut Diablo Canyon Now! – Wasserman & Geesman
Author-Activist Harvey Wasserman and Attorney John Geesman make the case for Governor Newsom to use his authority to shut down Pacific Gas & Electric’s aged, embrittled Diablo Canyon Nuclear Plant immediately, and not allow it to operate for its scheduled five more years.
Pt 4 – Nuclear PG&E vs. Clean Energy CCAs – Jessica Tovar
Jessica Tovar of the Utility Justice Campaign tells how bankrupt PG&E is trying to sell Community Choice Clean Energy agencies nuclear power.
James Heddle and Mary Beth Brangan co-direct EON, the Ecological Options Network – EON3.org
They are now completing SHUTDOWN a documentary about the power of citizen action and the obdurate nature
of entrenched interests at southern California’s San Onofre nuclear generating station. SHUTDOWN reveals the severe danger from haphazard handling of forever lasting lethal radioactive waste – a microcosm of a national challenge.