Close Diablo Canyon? More distributed solar instead

More calls for keeping Diablo Canyon have coming out in the last month, along with a proposal to match the project with a desalination project that would deliver water to somewhere. (And there has been pushback from opponents.) There are better solutions, as I have written about previously. Unfortunately, those who are now raising this issue missed the details and nuances of the debate in 2016 when the decision was made, and they are not well informed about Diablo’s situation.

One important fact is that it is not clear whether continued operation of Diablo is safe. Unit No. 1 has one of the most embrittled containment vessels in the U.S. that is at risk during a sudden shutdown event.

Another is that the decision would require overriding a State Water Resources Control Board decision that required ending the use of once-through cooling with ocean water. That cost was what led to the closure decision, which was 10 cents per kilowatt-hour at current operational levels and in excess of 12 cents in more likely operations.

So what could the state do fairly quickly for 12 cents per kWh instead? Install distributed energy resources focused on commercial and community-scale solar. These projects cost between 6 and 9 cents per kWh and avoid transmission costs of about 4 cents per kWh. They also can be paired with electric vehicles to store electricity and fuel the replacement of gasoline cars. Microgrids can mitigate wildfire risk more cost effectively than undergrounding, so we can save another $40 billion there too. Most importantly they can be built in a matter of months, much more quickly than grid-scale projects.

As for the proposal to build a desalination plant, pairing one with Diablo would both be overkill and a logistical puzzle. The Carlsbad plant produces 56,000 acre-feet annually for San Diego County Water Agency. The Central Coast where Diablo is located has a State Water Project allocation of 45,000 acre-feet which is not even used fully now. That plant uses 35 MW or 1.6% of Diablo’s output. A plant built to use all of Diablo’s output could produce 3.5 million acre-feet, but the State Water Project would need to be significantly modified to move the water either back to the Central Valley or beyond Santa Barbara to Ventura. All of that adds up to a large cost on top of what is already a costly source of water of $2,500 to $2,800 per acre-foot.

4 thoughts on “Close Diablo Canyon? More distributed solar instead

  1. Richard McCann Post author

    Looks like the Legislature has pulled the plug on the proposal, instead using the funds for other relief measures.
    https://sjvsun.com/uncategorized/fantasy-and-fairy-dust-newsom-goes-nuclear-on-dem-plan-to-shut-diablo-canyon/

    The legislative plan drops the idea of keeping the decades-old reactors running. Instead, it would funnel the $1.4 billion Newsom proposed for PG&E into speeding up other zero-carbon power and new transmission lines to get the electricity to customers.
    The legislative plan included a series of related, but separate, proposals for investing over $1 billion to install install energy-efficient cooling and lighting for low-income Californians, at no cost to qualifying residents. It would also place $900 million in an “electric ratepayer relief fund” to provide bill credits to offset ratepayer costs. Another $900 million would got toward funding solar and storage systems for low-income households, among other programs.
    [Newsom spokesman Anthony] York said the proposal came out of the state Assembly and “feels like fantasy and fairy dust, and reflects a lack of vision and a lack of understanding about the scope of the climate problem.”

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  2. Richard McCann

    More about keeping Diablo Canyon open. The Governor proposed legislation that needs to be passed by August 31. https://www.canarymedia.com/articles/nuclear/should-california-keep-its-last-nuclear-plant-open-the-battle-is-back
    https://www.utilitydive.com/news/california-diablo-canyon-nuclear-plant-open-newsom-bill/629727/
    https://apnews.com/article/california-legislature-gavin-newsom-climate-and-environment-4968ee9da7fd1d10ad67bfdf03950873

    The costs of producing hydrogen or moving desalinated water to the State Water Project would be immense. A Diablo Canyon desalination plant would produce water far in excess of what is used on the Central Coast, so the SWP Coastal Branch would have to be reengineered to reverse its flow. (And the plant would have to have 40+ year life to justify the capital costs.) In addition, hydrogen is looking like a dead end for solving the GHG emission problem because it is a GHG itself and transporting it has significant leakage. All of this illustrates how naive the Stanford/MIT study is about the complexity of the issues.

    Studies on the issue.
    https://www.brattle.com/insights-events/publications/how-could-diablo-canyon-help-meet-californias-climate-and-reliability-goals-brattle-consultants-explore-in-a-new-report/
    https://gridlab.org/california-2030-study/
    https://www.nrdc.org/experts/diablo-canyon-update-one-year-after-historic-joint-proposal

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