Keep Diablo Canyon open to help achieve emission reduction targets

November 11, 2021

By Jordan Cunningham and Dawn Ortiz-Legg, especially for CalMatters

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

Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg, a Democrat, represents District 3 of 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 state electricity come from carbon-free sources by 2045.

These are aggressive goals that fit the power and determination of the world’s 5th largest economy. Yet we are still seeing rising temperatures, record droughts and intense forest fires.

What if everything California and the nation do to curb climate change is just not enough?

To achieve our carbon-free goals while maintaining the reliability of the system and avoiding disabling power outages, we need a mix of clean energy sources – renewable energy such as solar and wind power. We need aggressive investments in energy storage projects. And we need to reconsider whether the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant should continue to operate for another 10 years after its planned shutdown in 2025.

There is a serious risk that we will not be able to achieve our emission reduction targets while maintaining network reliability without Diablo Canyon. Simply replacing the clean power we lose from the plant will require the development of 90,000 acres of renewable resources, although the location of new renewable energy plants and associated transmission has been shown to develop slowly and meet significant resistance. Keeping Diablo Canyon online will protect against these risks, and if additional renewable energy is brought online, it will dramatically accelerate carbon reductions.

That’s why so many leaders in the state have come together in two ways to oppose the closure of Diablo Canyon, which is 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 renewable energy is not available, leading to greater CO2 emissions, no less. And it should not be overlooked that the closure would cost the Central Coast 1,200 well-paid jobs.

Resolving our energy crisis does not mean abandoning our commitment to decarbonise. But we are making a real bet if we do not focus on diversifying our energy portfolio. We need every carbon-free energy solution on the table, including solar, wind, geothermal energy, battery storage and nuclear power.

A new joint study by researchers at MIT and Stanford University has reassessed the potential contribution Diablo Canyon can make to this goal through 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 that combines Diablo Canyon’s electricity generation with the continued expansion of renewable energy sources. It found that extending the operation of Diablo Canyon to 2035 under a diversified approach would reduce the energy sector’s carbon emissions in the state by 11% compared to 2017 levels.

It would also save taxpayers 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 recycled to produce both desalinated water and hydrogen – emission-free.

A desalination complex at Diablo Canyon could produce up to 80 times as much as the state’s largest desalination plant currently in operation – at about half the cost. This would help alleviate our severe drought, alleviate the shortage and provide fresh water to our cities, suburbs and farms.

And as the demand for hydrogen fuels grows, Diablo Canyon would be able to generate pure hydrogen at half the price of solar or wind-generated hydrogen.

To meet the challenge of climate change, we need to implement more sources of clean energy that together can achieve our carbon-free goals. The last thing we should do is hurry to shut down California’s largest single source of clean energy.

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