California’s Renewables Portfolio Standard (RPS) requires 50% of utility retail sales derive from renewable sources by 2030. This includes ramping up efficiency, storage and renewable infrastructure, especially rooftop solar projects. A major California utility, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E) is addressing the RPS requirements in part by announcing the retirement of the Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant by 2025 with production to be replaced by renewables and improved energy storage. Although carbon-free, nuclear power is not classified as a renewable energy source under California’s 50% mandate and as a result, the state is beginning a nuclear phase-out.
Implementation of the state RPS will require Diablo Canyon to produce at nearly half capacity in the years leading to the end of its functionality in 2025. As a result, PG&E explains the retirement economically, indicating that cutting nuclear production even slightly makes the investment in renewables more worthwhile given the high cost of nuclear operation. Other concerns surrounding nuclear have also been raised, such as plant safety and byproduct disposal.
Nuclear currently provides about 60 percent of the nation’s carbon-free power, which some environmentalists and state and federal policymakers believe makes nuclear essential for reaching national climate goals. Concerns about the plant closing revolve around filling the potential power generation gap. Opponents argue that renewable sources are insufficient, and PG&E will likely be forced to turn to natural gas and other fossil fuels to provide electricity to its customers. California’s RPS is highly supportive of wind and solar projects; however, without Diablo’s production, some are asking if these intermittent energy sources will be enough to provide for PG&E’s 5.4 million electric customers.
Can emissions and renewable energy goals be addressed without nuclear energy as part of the solution, in California and in other states? Can increasing solar power and other renewable generation sustain California residents after the plant closes? Is replacing must-run energy sources (nuclear) to meet base load requirements with intermittent sources of renewable generation sound long-term energy policy?