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Opinion: Replacing Nuclear Plants Amounts to ‘Treadmill Decarbonization’

As California winds down production of nuclear energy at the Diablo Canyon plant, “[t]he California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) voted on June 24th to approve a procurement package composed of 11.5 GW of clean energy resources that will come online by 2026.” But Adam Stein argues that replacing the nuclear plant with other clean energy sources is tantamount to running in place–or worse. “In the approved procurement order the CPUC made its position clear that building new fossil fuels resources is the best option — they have just postponed it until after further analysis is completed to justify this position.”

This, Stein says, “would not be necessary if the older and less efficient fossil-fueled generators were replaced with renewables instead of replacing a clean firm source like Diablo.” According to Stein, “[n]one of the resources proposed to replace Diablo Canyon are as resilient to extreme weather — not even gas or geothermal. The once-through cooling system from the ocean is heat and drought resistant. The long fuel cycle lets the power plant ride out any storm without concern for fuel security.”

Stein calls this replacement “treadmill decarbonization,” writing that “[i]nstead of moving toward a cleaner and lower-carbon energy system, treadmill decarbonization just runs in place by swapping one clean energy source for another.” This also hurts ratepayers: “Just for the closure of Diablo Canyon, ratepayers will have to shoulder $437 million in the form of higher electricity prices to support the local economy, community support programs, and more than 1,300 lost jobs. Instead of paying almost half a billion dollars to force clean energy off the grid, that investment could have gone to building more clean energy.”

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