PG&E’s campaign to re-license Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant is powering up. Thanks to The Tribune for putting PG&E’s wine-and-dine with local business and political leaders on the front page, so we uninvited can know who’s rubbing elbows.
PG&E delivered its carrot-and-stick message to a comfortable audience: DCPP pours hundreds of millions of dollars into the county, both directly in taxes and in the cushy $136,000 average annual salaries paid to its employees. Without Diablo Canyon, San Luis Obispo County faces economic doom.
That’s the story they’re telling. Shifting perspective away from nuclear power and Diablo Canyon Power Plant, far from being economic doom, could be the best thing that happens to San Luis Obispo County.
PG&E has various economic analyses citing the number of jobs and the flow of money coming from Diablo Canyon Power Plant. Very smart people have concluded that dollars from Diablo Canyon make San Luis Obispo County prosperous.
What if that money were spent, as former Energy Secretary Stephen Chu, now teaching physics and molecular and cellular physiology at Stanford University, recommends, on installing solar panels and batteries on homes and businesses? San Luis Obispo could become the showplace for a business model that serves the public better at lower cost.
Diablo Canyon’s product is electrical power. We’re smart enough to have better ways to get that. If PG&E were to invest in solar energy rather than nuclear, the economic benefit would be as great or even better.
Look at some sample figures, provided by Kristian Emrich, vice president of Solarponics Inc.: $64 million would buy solar panels, installed and working, for 3,200 homes, producing 24,762,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year. PG&E would save $743,000 per year on wholesale energy costs at $0.04 per kilowatt wholesale price.
PG&E could either own the solar panels outright or lease them to customers. Leasing them at $0.15 per kilowatt, a nickel per kilowatt less than a standard lease, PG&E could create an income of $3.7 million per year. That would give the company a return on investment near 6 percent. Added to that, $750,000 savings, it’s close to 7 percent.
Installing solar on local businesses would save PG&E even more: about $1,320,000 per year on wholesale energy costs at $0.04 per kilowatt wholesale price. With a leasing program at $0.12 per kilowatt, 3 cents per kilowatt less than a standard commercial lease, PG&E would get $4 million a year. That’s a return on investment of more than 6 percent. The cost savings on energy purchased brings the return on investment up to 7.5 percent.
PG&E gets to provide clean energy without those pesky problems of earthquake faults and spent nuclear fuel.
Diablo Canyon Power Plant is a major economic backbone of SLO County, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. Spending even this preliminary $64 million on solar energy would create 100 full-time local jobs for a year. Such an infusion of money into solar installations could spark interest and inspire more individuals and businesses to go solar.
“PG&E could sub out the installations to local installers, which would create even more jobs,” Emrich said. “That would increase awareness and competition, driving increased growth in renewable energy sales.”
Cal Poly could focus its attention on solar, as Texas A&M has with its proposed Center for Solar Energy. Its solar test farm will be the world’s largest — hey, it’s in Texas — and make the school the first all-solar university, as well as providing electricity to 20,000 homes and the Fort Hood military installation. Cal Poly could be next.
Homeowners who don’t have electric bills to pay can use that money on other things, from paying the mortgage to putting food on the table. Maybe they’ll go to a movie or eat out at a restaurant. That means about $500,000 in local spending that now goes to PG&E, in the first year alone. It gets better, increasing by about 6 percent a year.
Local solar installers are ready to go to work.
And from Jane Swanson for Mothers for Peace:
By Jane Swanson
PG&E uses half-truths, distortions, and irrelevant information in its attempt to justify license renewal for the two nuclear reactors at Diablo Canyon. (“Diablo nuclear plant fuels local economy,” July 14).
The argument presented by PG&E is that Diablo should be relicensed because of jobs created and taxes paid. But economic factors are not relevant to license renewal. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) requires that plant operators show that the plant meets regulatory safety requirements, not that it creates jobs.
But if economics is the topic PG&E wants to discuss, the hidden costs of nuclear power must be included.
In the event of a serious accident at the plant, the taxpayers have the bulk of financial responsibility under the Price-Anderson Act. It caps the liability of nuclear operators, leaving taxpayers on the hook for most of the damages.
Ratepayers and taxpayers are also responsible for the costs of storing and guarding the radioactive wastes produced at all commercial reactors. More than 6 million pounds of radioactive wastes are currently stored at Diablo, with 500 pounds being added each day. The high level wastes will be lethal for a quarter of a million years — in effect forever.
While the nuclear reactors are not “good neighbors,” Mothers for Peace fully recognizes that the people who work at the plant are conscientious. But their best efforts cannot compensate for the fundamental problems. Diablo was designed in the 1960s, and is in fact an aging nuclear plant. It is also a radioactive waste storage dump surrounded by 13 earthquake faults, some of them classified as “major” and “active” by the United States Geological Survey.
PG&E tax monies that help support schools must be weighed against the health risks to children who live in the shadow of this nuclear plant. Even under normal operating conditions, nuclear plants emit some radioactive materials. In the event of a significant accident, no amount of tax dollars could rectify the health consequences for these students. Witness Fukushima.
The claim that Diablo produces “clean” energy is a myth. The nuclear fuel cycle releases much carbon dioxide during mining, fuel enrichment and plant construction. Uranium mining is one of the most carbon dioxide intensive industrial operations. And certainly radioactive wastes can not be described as “clean”!
The statement that “Nuclear energy makes up more than 20 percent of the electricity we provide to our customers” needs clarification. In 2011, before San Onofre shut down for good, the California Energy Commission predicted that by 2017 nuclear would produce 15.1 percent of the electricity produced in the state. Now that Diablo is the only operating nuclear plant, we can assume that approximately 8 percent of the electricity produced in California will be from Diablo. Furthermore, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) states that “Diablo Canyon going offline would not significantly impact the amount of energy on the grid.”
Mothers for Peace proposes that PG&E increase the portion of its ample resources invested in sustainable sources of energy. According to the Political Economy Research Institute of the University of Massachusetts, for every four jobs provided by nuclear plants, solar and wind projects provide 13 jobs. Retrofitting buildings to conserve energy usage provides 17 jobs compared to the four for nuclear.
We don’t need the energy from Diablo Canyon, and we certainly do not need the risks. Shut it down, PG&E, and invest in renewable energy. That would make PG&E a truly good neighbor.
Jane Swanson is spokesperson for San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace.