Complaint filed with FERC to save Diablo Canyon from early closure

November 2, 2020, 3:01PMNuclear News

A nuclear advocacy group is asking the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to review the approval by California regulators of the decision by Pacific Gas and Electric in 2016 to prematurely retire its Diablo Canyon plant—the Golden State’s only remaining operating nuclear power facility—in 2025.

On October 26, the nonprofit organization Californians for Green Nuclear Power Inc. (CGNP) filed a 32-page complaint with FERC in the matter, listing as respondents the North American Electric Reliability Corporation (NERC), Western Electricity Coordinating Council (WECC), California Independent System Operator (CAISO), California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), California State Water Resources Control Board (CSWRCB), and California State Lands Commission (CSLC).

The complaint: In its filing, CGNP claims that CAISO, CPUC, CSWRCB, and CSLC violated federal reliability standards for the bulk power system “through the CPUC’s approval of the plan to close Diablo Canyon … without first properly analyzing the adverse bulk electric system and adverse bulk natural gas system consequences, in light of known California-specific hazards.”

In addition, the complaint charges that NERC and WECC “failed to conduct proper oversight or enforce NERC’s reliability standards that will be violated by removing [Diablo Canyon] from the California electric grid.”

This photo, taken on July 31, 2020, in northeast San Luis Obispo County, Calif., shows Southern California Gas Company’s Line 44-1088 routed above ground where it crosses the San Andreas Fault. According to CGNP, the line is being bent by aseismic creep, which endangers many natural gas transmission lines crossing active earthquake faults in California. Photo: CGNP

One of CGNP’s major concerns involves the state’s natural gas transmission and storage system. According to the complaint, because some 60 percent of California’s dispatchable in-state bulk electric generation system is powered by natural gas, “the reliability of California’s bulk electrical system is tightly coupled to the reliability of California’s natural gas bulk transmission and storage system. … There are present reliability challenges to [the latter system] that are a consequence of its vulnerability to sudden earthquake motions and slow aseismic (without an earthquake) creep caused by the relative motion of Earth’s crustal plates in California.”

Relief request: CGNP is asking FERC to (1) conduct a reliability analysis “focused on how the continued safe operation of [Diablo Canyon] provides the reliability benefits” described in the complaint, and (2) take “action to enforce NERC’s reliability standards, as well as review and initiate remediation of the significant reliability concerns raised in this complaint.”

Comments on the complaint, including protests or motions to intervene, must be filed by November 16.

What they’re saying: “Californians should not have to choose between reliable power and increased air pollution, which will be the outcome if Diablo Canyon closes,” said Gene Nelson, CGNP legal assistant, told Nuclear News. “The rolling blackouts in mid-August 2020 would have been very severe if Diablo Canyon, which produces almost 10 percent of California’s in-state power, were unavailable. California’s vulnerability to natural gas supply disruptions caused by plate tectonics shows the value of keeping Diablo Canyon’s safe, reliable, abundant, cost-effective, and zero-emissions power available for the safety and welfare of the 40 million residents of California.”

Background: Located near Avila Beach, Calif., Diablo Canyon houses two four-loop Westinghouse pressurized water reactors; Unit 1, a 1,138-MWe PWR, began commercial operation in May 1985, while the 1,151-MWe Unit 2 started providing power in March of the following year.

In June 2016, PG&E announced that it had reached an agreement with organized labor and environmental organizations to increase investment in energy efficiency and storage, as well as renewables, and to close Diablo Canyon upon the expiration of the reactors’ operating licenses—November 2024 for Unit 1 and August 2025 for Unit 2. PG&E’s application to close the plant was approved by the CPUC in January 2018, and in March of that year the utility notified the Nuclear Regulatory Commission that it was withdrawing its 2009 application for license extension.

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