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CA plant first choice for nuclear program

Diablo Canyon to receive $1.1 billion to support clean energy Metal Tech News - November 23, 2022


Last updated 11/22/2022 at 3:06pm

Diablo Canyon Power Plant in California helps power roughly 15% of the state.

Wikimedia Commons

Owned and operated by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant provides clean energy for roughly 8% of California, and for almost 40 years.

Hoping to promote clean, renewable energy through nuclear power, the Biden administration Nov. 21 announced the conditional selection of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant near Avila Beach, California, to receive the first round of funding from the Civil Nuclear Credit program.

Financed through the $1.2 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill and enabled by the Inflation Reduction Act, $6 billion has been portioned to the CNC program to incentivize nuclear power plants for the generation of more clean energy while receiving significant kickbacks from that production.

Announced earlier this year through the Office of Nuclear Energy, the new Act aims to lower energy bills for U.S. consumers by providing a zero-emission nuclear power production credit of up to $15 per megawatt-hour.

You can read about the landmark legislation at Nuclear gets historical tax incentives in the September 14, 2022, edition of Metal Tech News.

"This is a critical step toward ensuring that our domestic nuclear fleet will continue providing reliable and affordable power to Americans as the nation's largest source of clean electricity," said Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm. "Nuclear energy will help us meet President Biden's climate goals, and with these historic investments in clean energy, we can protect these facilities and the communities they serve."

Less reactors, more emissions

Despite the U.S. only having 93 operating reactors in 55 power plants across 28 states, according to the U.S. Department of Energy, nuclear power provides roughly 50% of the nation's carbon-free electricity while only generating about 20% of the total electricity in the United States since 1990.

Shifting energy markets and other economic factors, likely compounded by the overall stigma that persists surrounding nuclear energy, has resulted in the early closure of 13 commercial reactors since 2013.

Due to these closures, DOE says there has been an increase in carbon emissions in those regions, resulting in poorer air quality for residents in those areas, as well as the loss of thousands of jobs.

Commissioned in the mid-80s, the Diablo Canyon Power Plant cost roughly $14.2 billion (2020 USD) to build and generates nearly 2,300 megawatts or 2.25 gigawatts of clean electricity.

As it stands, nuclear energy generates roughly 15% of California's power, and, as of 2021, according to the California Energy Commission, the Diablo Canyon alone generates approximately 64% of the state's nuclear power, with the remaining being imported from the Palo Verde plant in Nevada and the Columbia Generating Station in Washington.

However, Diablo's two reactors were scheduled to be decommissioned in 2024 and 2025 – which has now been further pushed back to 2030. With no present viable solution to replace that amount of power in a clean manner, in a state that often already has difficulties keeping itself alight, California may have some dark times ahead.

"In 2018, PG&E agreed to a settlement with state regulators, environmental groups, and labor organizations and agreed not to seek to renew the operating licenses for its two reactors, which will expire in 2024 and 2025. Given electricity reliability concerns, however, California recently approved legislation to keep Diablo Canyon operational until 2029 and 2030, and the state is also considering the option of further extending the plant's life through 2035. The legislation includes a $1.4 billion loan from the state's general fund to PG&E to cover the reactor unit relicensing costs," the U.S. Energy Information Administration penned on its website.

Perhaps with the newest tax incentives, that furthest 2035 date may be pushed back indefinitely.

Carbon-free future needs nuclear

The conditional award of credits, which is valued upwards of $1.1 billion, creates a new avenue for Diablo Canyon to remain open.

"I welcome the news that the Department of Energy has awarded $1.1 billion to help keep the Diablo Canyon Power Plant open," said Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA). "This short-term extension is necessary if California is going to meet its ambitious clean energy goals while continuing to deliver reliable power."

While the CNC program stipulates up to $1.2 billion can be appropriated and is intended to cover a four-year period, with funds distributed annually based on the allocation of credits, it is not the only incentive that the Biden administration has outlined in the Inflation Reduction Act.

The amount of electricity that a nuclear plant can generate wholly depends on the period of time it operates.

At nearly 40 years in operation, with a nameplate capacity of 2,256 MW, at full capacity for 24 hours, it could theoretically generate 54,144 megawatt-hours of power in a single day. At this capacity for an entire year, that is upwards of 20 million MWh, which isn't too far off the mark considering its annual net output is closer to 16 million MWh.

With a $15 per MWh kickback, these numbers could really accumulate.

For nuclear plants reaching the ends of their lives due to opposition or other factors, this could be just what is needed to remain steadfast and ultimately help achieve the White House's climate goals of 100% clean electricity by 2035 and net-zero emission economy by 2050.

Graph showing the amount of nuclear power for California in 2021.

U.S. Energy Information Administration

Nuclear power provided about 10% of California's total electricity supply in 2021.

"In the face of record heat waves and a deepening climate crisis, there is too much at stake for us to move backward in the fight to fully transition California away from polluting fossil fuels," said Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-CA-24). "In the pursuit of that goal, our Central Coast community and I have understood the need to explore and support the safe and temporary extension of the lifespan of Diablo Canyon Power Plant."

As urged by the responses received from the public during the comment period earlier this year, the first CNC award cycle prioritized reactors facing the most imminent threat of closure, limiting applications to reactors that had already announced intentions to cease operations due to economic factors.

"While there are still remaining safety concerns that need to be addressed, including relicensing by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, these funds – when combined with the funds made available by the California Legislature – will help ensure Diablo Canyon can safely continue operations," added Carbajal.


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