While the “Three Amigos” are meeting in Ottawa to discuss ways to limit their carbon emissions, a different group of friends — or shall we say ‘adversaries’ — are meeting in California to ditch its remaining nuclear plant. That provides 8 percent of the state’s electricity and that is also carbon free.
As discussed in an earlier story this week’s Environmental Leader, President Obama is meeting with Justin Trudeau of Canada and Enrique Pena Nieto of Mexico to set a target of producing half of North America’s power from carbon-free sources by 2025. It’s already a hard task and one that goes further than the COP21 agreement signed in Paris last December. It will be even harder without nuclear power.
To that end, PG&E’s Diablo Canyon is now scheduled to close in nine years. That’s on top of the roughly five or so that have already shut down, including Southern California’s Edison’s plant that did so because of a persistent — but small — radiation leak.
As for Diablo Canyon, Pacific Gas & Electric reached a deal with the Natural Resources Defense Council and Friends of the Earth to close it and to replace that fuel exclusively with renewables. The nine-year limit is set because that is when the utility would otherwise have to renew the license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.
“It is designed to help California meet our climate change goals, including that half of the electricity generated in the state must come from clean, renewable energy by 2030,” writes Peter Miller of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “And it provides a model for collaborative resolution of a complex energy issue that is fully consistent with California’s ambitious environmental and economic goals.”
However, another environmentalist says that the deal reached between the utility and the council is mostly in the self-interest of the NRDC. Michael Shellenberger, founder of Environmental Progress, says that the NRDC has “significant, direct investments in natural gas and renewable energy companies.
“The two highest-ranking members of NRDC’s Board of Trustees, its Chair and Vice Chair, as well as one of NRDC’s single largest donors, are all major investors in natural gas and renewables companies, could benefit significantly from Diablo’s closure,” he writes. The council has $7.7 million invested four separate renewable energy private equity funds, he adds.
In other words, if 8 percent of the nuclear-produced electricity is taken off the market, then it provides a good business opportunity for those who develop wind and solar power — especially their investors.
Proponents of the closure counter that it is not unusual for a trade group that advances wind and solar power to invest in companies that develop those resources. In fact, they say it is consistent with their mission.
Looking back, SoCalEd’s SONGS plant had cranked out 2,200 megawatts of carbon-free electricity before it was retired. By 2022, the utilities that relied on that power — Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric — will need to procure 1,500 megawatts.
Of that, about 575 megawatts must come from “preferred sources” that include green energy, energy storage and energy efficiency — an amount to be proportioned based on how much nuclear energy each company had come to depend. The rest is likely to be generated from natural gas.
For now, the SONG’s closure means more greenhouse gas emissions, reports the California Air Resources Board. Since the nuclear facility was originally idled in January 2012 — it officially closed in June 2013 — such releases are up by 35 percent. Before that, it said that those emissions had been declining.
With all this, it is difficult to see how the United States can outdo its commitments in Paris. Canada and Mexico may therefore be forced to carry much of the weight.