The Opportunity Cost of Shutting Down Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant

For nearly 35 years, Diablo Canyon Power Plant has pumped just over 2.0 gigawatts of electricity onto California’s power grid. Unlike hydroelectric power, which has good years and bad depending on rainfall, or solar and wind power which depends on sunshine and wind, Diablo Canyon’s nuclear reactors generate this electricity 24 hours per day, 365 days a year.

But Diablo Canyon’s days are numbered. In January 2018 California’s Public Utility Commission voted to shut it down. Barring legislation to countermand this decision, by 2025 Diablo Canyon will cease operations, making California a nuclear free state. Is this a good idea?

Anti-nuclear environmental groups, as reported at the time in the Los Angeles Times, “hailed the decision, which was expected after 17 months of filings and debate, but also were concerned about what type of energy sources would be used to replace Diablo’s electricity.”

Good question. Especially since environmental groups are the groups one might expect to be most concerned about “greenhouse gas,” and the only way wind and solar power can operate is by having natural gas power plants to spin into action every time the wind falters or the sun goes down.

The alternative to natural gas backup is to overbuild wind and solar farms and store the excess energy with batteries. An interesting comparison would be to see what battery storage capacity would be required to replace the power Diablo generates during off peak hours of 12 hours per day.

The following chart projects a $12 billion price tag, based on a cost of $500 million per gigawatt-hour of battery farm storage. This cost estimate relies on data from several parallel projects at the 2.0 gigawatt-hour Moss Landing energy storage facility currently under development on the Central California coast. 

While battery storage costs are declining rapidly, with some experts projecting prices at one-fifth current levels within 10-20 years, others are not so sanguine. And battery costs aren’t the only consideration. Balance of plant costs – siting, distribution infrastructure – and California’s obstructionist construction climate will also pile on costs.

How Many EVs Could Diablo Canyon Recharge Every Night?

If Diablo isn’t shut down, of course, it isn’t necessary to invest $12 billion (or more) in battery storage to scoop up sun and wind dependent intermittent renewable energy and save it for nighttime charging. But either way, assuming California’s policymakers achieve their goal of filling our roads with battery powered vehicles, how many miles could they travel based on tapping into 12 hours of Diablo Canyon’s 2.0 gigawatt output?

As the next chart shows, the metric we’re going to be getting used to when evaluating mileage efficiency from EVs is not “miles-per-gallon-equivalent,” but the far more descriptive kilowatt-hours per 100 miles. And based on US EPA data, most EVs on the road today require around 25 kilowatt-hours to travel 100 miles. That equates to 4 million miles per gigawatt-hour. Taking into account 12 hours of 2.0 gigawatt output from Diablo Canyon, that’s enough to power a fleet of EVs driving 96 million miles per day. How does that compare to the total mileage driven each day by Californians?

According to US Federal Highway Administration data, the Californians log per capita vehicle mileage of 9,053 miles per year. That means California’s nearly 40 million residents are driving nearly one billion miles per day. Nonetheless, Diablo Canyon alone could power enough EVs to put quite a dent into that total. Nearly 10 percent of all driver mileage could be powered by EVs charged overnight by electricity produced by Diablo Canyon.

To make the opportunity cost of shutting down Diablo Canyon even more stark, one might ask what the cost would be to use solar panels and batteries to replace Diablo Canyon’s off-peak nocturnal output? The next chart shows those estimates, based on a rock bottom price of $1.00 per watt of solar panels. That is a best-case number pretty much forever, since land acquisition, engineering, labor, racking, connectors, utility interties, distribution infrastructure – along with the price of the actual panels – make this a mature industry.

As an aside, the less said about wind power, the better. Wind power is an abomination, slaughtering birdsbats, and insects at a rate which would destroy the planet in a few years if it were ever developed to any meaningful scale, not to mention the visual blight, the hideous quantities of materials, or the physical and psychological illness the inescapable low frequency thrum triggers in humans and animals.

As shown above, it would cost about $18 billion to develop renewable assets using solar and battery technology to replace the overnight EV recharging capacity of Diablo Canyon. If California’s vehicles were electrified, this capacity is sufficient to power 10 percent of California’s automobile mileage. And this is exactly half the story – Diablo Canyon operates 24 hours per day, not just at night to charge EV batteries.

It is interesting – or depressing, depending on one’s ability to confront these scandalous miscarriages of policy with equanimity – to wonder why environmentalists, who think we have barely a decade to “decarbonize” before the planet is lost, are so intent on shutting down Diablo Canyon.

The only sane way to sell renewable energy is to make it cheaper than fossil fuel and nuclear power. But the flawed policies and phony accounting that are used to present renewables as competitive need to be replaced by honest analysis.

It should be obvious that if renewable energy was truly less expensive, every nation in the world would be turning to renewables instead of building, as fast as they possibly can, more coal, natural gas, and nuclear power plants.

The single most significant variable affecting the economic viability of intermittent renewable energy is storage costs. Maybe batteries will eventually come down in price to, say $50 per kilowatt-hour, i.e., $50 million per gigawatt-hour. And if and when that happens, maybe it will make economic sense to convert to 100 percent renewables. And maybe then, instead of having to sow fear and panic in the media, and weaponize brainwashed elementary school children for photo ops with politicians pushing “green” energy, states and nations will adopt renewables because they really are the cheaper alternative.

If we are entering the electric age, where not only lights, PCs, refrigerators and air conditioners use electricity, but also space heaters, water heaters, cooktops, and vehicles – not to mention cyber currency – then we’re going to need more electricity at a time when “renewables” aren’t ready for prime time. And if the urgent imperative to rush into this decarbonized electric age is to supposedly save the planet, why are we shutting down Diablo Canyon?

In the meantime, Diablo Canyon is a sunk cost. Ratepayers long ago covered the construction bill for Diablo Canyon. But these reactors, instead of continuing to generate 2.0 gigawatts of clean, carbon free electricity for decades to come, are going to be shut down and subject to expensive decommissioning costs. Those who sincerely believe in the need to decarbonize energy need to join with those who support economically sound energy policies, to demand Diablo Canyon stay open.

This article originally appeared in the California Globe.

Nuclear power receives its death sentence in California


In a unanimous vote, state regulators agreed Thursday to a plan that will see the closing of the last nuclear energy power plant in California.

  • The Diablo Canyon nuclear facility will begin shutdown operations starting in 2024.
  • The power plant’s operator, Pacific Gas & Electric, says the facility will soon become an economic liability for the company because of dramatic changes in the state’s energy landscape.
  • Critics of the shutdown say it will lead to the use of more natural gas in the state’s power grid.
  • Environmental groups hailed the vote but want assurances that greenhouse gas emissions will not rise as a result.

Click here to read the full article from the San Diego Union-Tribune

Why Green Power Won’t Replace Nukes


Last year Southern California Edison mothballed its 2.3 gigawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. As CalWatchdog.com reported at the time, the actual reason probably was mechanical defects caused from retrofitting the plant to ramp up and down rapidly to back up erratic green power.

The Environmental Defense Fund and other green advocates now are celebrating that California is replacing the loss of that nuclear power with solar and wind power, electricity storage, energy efficiency and peak-load curtailments.  The California Independent System Operator, which runs the grid, proposed to procure 50 percent of that lost power from “preferred resources,” meaning anything but fossil fuels.

However, the reality is San Onofre generated 2.2 gigawatts of clean energy, while Edison is only looking to replace that with 46 megawatts of green power — about 1/40th of San Onofre’s prior generating capacity. The rest of the load will shift to natural-gas power.

The reason: All electrons do the same work, but don’t arrive at the same time. San Onofre’s power was constant, 24/7. Wind and solar are unpredictable.

Here is the breakdown of Edison’s procurement to replace San Onofre’s power for the West Los Angeles area:

          Southern California Edison Energy Procurement to Replace San Onofre

Source Megawatts Percent Total
New gas-fired generation 1,698 76.7%
Behind-the-meter storage 160.6 7.2%
Energy Efficiency 135.2 6.1%
In Front of the Meter Storage 101.0 4.5%
Demand-Response 75.0 3.4%
Behind-the-Meter Solar Renewable 46.0 2.1%
Total 2,216 megawatts (2 gigawatts) 100%
Source: Southern California Edison, Local Capacity Requirement Request for Offers for West Los Angeles-Moorpark Sub-Areas.

Fossil fuels

So 76.7 percent of the power to replace San Onofre is coming from new fossil-fuel natural gas-fired electric generating plants.

Ironically, according to The Carbon Brief, studies from Europe show “gas power costs twice as much if it only runs half the time.” That’s because it costs money to just ramp up and ramp down power plants.

Not all of Edison’s procurement is to replace lost power from San Onofre. Edison also must replace 17,500 megawatts of power lost from the retirement of six other coastal power plants. The retirement is needed to comply with requirements to shift from using ocean water to cool steam plants to air-cooled systems in order to protect fish larvae.

The plants to be retired are: Humboldt Bay 1 and 2, Potrero, South Bay, Morro Bay 2 and 4 and Contra Costa 6 and 7. 

Why new power must be sited in Orange County and L.A.

According to AES California:

“AES Southland is currently developing plans to replace its existing natural gas power plants in Long Beach, Huntington Beach and Redondo Beach with modern, more attractive and far more efficient facilities, which will take up less space at the sites. Modern and more flexible natural gas plants are critical to integrate renewable energy into the electric grid and help California meet its important clean energy goals. 

“Our plans to redevelop our power plants will increase the local taxes we pay, and allow us to continue providing jobs, doing business with local merchants, and supporting these communities through our charitable giving.” 

Why must the new power plants be located close to customer bases in Orange and Los Angeles counties? For several reasons:

Firstvoltage is like water pressure in a hose. San Onofre created enough voltage to “pressurize” the power grid so that electrons would flow smoothly.

By contrast, green power cannot provide much, if any, voltage because it is not consistently available to the power grid 24/7. It’s like taking a shower where the water cycles on for 1 minute, then off for 3 minutes.

Second, to prevent any future big transmission line outages, called an “N-1-1 event.”  N-1-1 means the number of transmission lines (N) that are lost in a catastrophic event is 1 and 1, or 2.  Edison must plan for two transmission lines going down simultaneously.

The problem with two lines being out of commission at once is overload that could create a cascade of shutdowns throughout the entire state grid.

Third, the Duck Chart Problem, which CalWatchdog.com detailed last month. Basically, the Duck Chart shows there is a demand in California to ramp up 13,500 megawatts of conventional power in a narrow two-hour window of time at sunset each day to replace solar power going offline. That would be enough power for about 6,750,000 homes per hour.

The imported electrons are the problem because they must be transmitted on transmission lines that may be out of service in a catastrophic N-1-1 event. So local power sources are preferred.

Fourth, the old Encina Power Plant in Carlsbad has been shut down and is being retrofitted for an ocean water desalination plant and new co-generation natural gas power plant.

This article was originally published by CalWatchdog.com

San Onofre Nuke Shutdown Shocks Consumers


“This is very good news for the people of Southern California.” So said Erich Pica, president of the outspoken environmental group Friends of the Earth, celebrating in June 2013 the announced closure of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

A year and a half later, the people of Southern California are to be forgiven for thinking the decommissioning of San Onofre anything but very good news. That’s because it will cost them $3.3 billion in higher electricity rates under a settlement approved recently by the California Public Utilities Commission.

And here’s what most business and residential customers of Southern California Edison, San Onofre’s majority owner, and San Diego Gas & Electric, the nuclear plant’s minority owner, don’t know. Friends of the Earth in April this year joined the settlement with Edison and SDG&E that will saddle the utilities’ ratepayers with 75 percent of the total $4.4 billion cost of mothballing San Onofre, with Edison and SDGE shareholders footing the other 25 percent.

That’s not the result Friends of the Earth suggested to Edison and SDG&E ratepayers when they began their campaign in 2012 to Mau-Mau the utilities into decommissioning the nuclear plant.

Indeed, in Jan. 2012, a small radiation leak in one of San Onofre’s twin reactors prompted a temporary shutdown of the plant, during which it was discovered there had been certain wear and tear on tubing within the newly installed steam generators made by Japan’s Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

Alarmist

Edison eventually repaired the problems and sought the permission of federal regulators to restart the nuclear plant. But Friends of the Earth insisted San Onofre was inherently unsafe, that it posed “a unique threat to 8 million Californians living within 50 miles” of the nuclear plant just south of San Clemente, and that it should be permanently shut down.

Friends of the Earth’s alarmist campaign ultimately succeeded. San Onofre sat idle for 16 month, costing Edison more than $550 million in repairs and loss of plant revenue.

In October 2012, the anti-nuke activist group argued that “continued operation of San Onofre is not cost effective.”

Edison agreed, with continued uncertainty as to if and when federal regulators would allow San Onofre to start producing electricity again, the utility decided to decommission the plant.

‘Victory!’

Friends of the Earth declared “Victory!” on its Facebook page, hailing Edison’s capitulation.

FOE suggested that the 2,200 megawatts San Onofre generated when fully operational – which accounted for roughly 20 percent of Edison’s total electricity production – could easily be replaced by a solar power and wind energy. It linked to a statement from Pica:

“We have long said that these reactors are too dangerous to operate and now Edison has agreed. The people of California now have the opportunity to move away from the failed promise of dirty and dangerous nuclear power and replace it with the safe and clean energy provided by the sun and the wind.”

But that hasn’t happened yet.

More, as CalWatchdog.com has reported, there often is a delay between when daytime solar power ramps down and evening wind power ramps up. That delay forces the electricity companies to buy costly natural-gas generated electricity on the spot market – another shock to ratepayers. That problem didn’t occur with San Onofre’s electricity because generation was continuous.

FOE also suggested the cost of San Onofre’s permanent shutdown wouldn’t be felt by customers of Edison and SDG&E.

The people of Southern California now know the shocking truth: They were misled to the tune of $3.3 billion in higher electricity rates, plus higher rates during the solar-wind power transition.

This article was originally published on CalWatchdog.com