Diablo Canyon is needed for clean-energy transition

Job seekers line up in January for as many as 1,000 temporary positions at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.
Job seekers line up in January for as many as 1,000 temporary positions at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant.

Soon, Californians will learn whether state leaders’ commitment to achieving 50 percent renewable energy by 2030 is backed by a willingness to make hard choices, or whether they remain subject to politics as usual.

The State Lands Commission is scheduled to consider extensions for leases set to expire in 2018 and 2019 at the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant. The proposed extensions, through 2024 and 2025, would allow the leases and the plant’s operating license to expire simultaneously.

Renewing the leases is sound public policy, particularly in the framework of California’s goals on climate change, which drive our environmental and energy priorities.

Not renewing the leases, as advocated by a small number of activists, is unsound policy fueled by 1970s thinking that ignores Diablo’s 30-year track record.

California is in transition from yesterday’s dirty fossil fuel energy to a future of renewable energy. But tomorrow hasn’t come yet and we won’t get there without using nuclear energy from Diablo Canyon today.

While solar, wind and other renewable sources are vitally important elements of the overall climate-change solution, they remain only a part of that solution. Full utilization of these renewable resources remains years away and requires continued technological advances and expensive changes to our power grid.

Diablo Canyon produces nearly 10 percent of all of California’s electrical power, reliably and around the clock. It emits zero greenhouse gases and no pollution, making it the single largest generator of non-carbon power in the state.

Consider the case of the San Onofre nuclear plant, which closed in 2012. According to a UC Berkeley report, its closure increased carbon dioxide emissions by 9 million tons in the first year, the equivalent of adding the pollution of 2 million cars to our environment.

Closing Diablo Canyon would produce the same backward result. Nuclear energy would be replaced by natural gas-fired power, which produces greenhouse gases. Why? Because although clean, wind and solar energy production remains wildly inconsistent and unreliable.

Reaching a green energy future requires staying true to our goals in the face of political pressure. And good science provides the moral imperative to do just that.

Earlier this year, a group of climate scientists and environmental leaders pointed out in a letter to the governor and other state officials that it will take decades to bring renewables to the level of production required to replace Diablo’s output. They argued for Diablo to be relicensed into the 2040s.

I am proud to represent the workers who produce and deliver energy, including 600 at Diablo Canyon. From our perspective, a smart energy transition means setting a goal, creating a plan and sticking with it. The state has set an ambitious goal. The data are clear and the Lands Commission should be, too.

There is no path to consistently reduce greenhouse gases without Diablo Canyon’s contribution of clean power. Extension of the leases will make that possible.

Tom Dalzell is business manager of IBEW Local 1245, representing more than 19,000 utility workers in California and Nevada. He can be contacted at