By Peter Miller
The historic proposal to retire and replace California's last remaining nuclear power plant, Diablo Canyon, was mostly rejected Thursday in a final decision unanimously adopted by the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), which removed critical elements protecting the climate, plant workers and surrounding communities. The commission voted to approve this decision, setting the wheels in motion to close the plant by 2025, but without these protections.
While disappointing, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) will continue to advocate forcefully to ensure that the CPUC authorizes increased investment in zero-carbon resources to replace the huge plant's electricity generation—including energy efficiency, wind and solar—and avoid any increase in carbon pollution. We also will explore alternative options to ensure that the urgent needs of the plant workers and surrounding communities are addressed.
Diablo Canyon is owned by Pacific Gas and Electric (PG&E), one of the nation's largest combination natural gas and electric utilities, which serves 16 million people in northern and central California. The plant, located 250 miles south of San Francisco near San Luis Obispo, accounts for about 9 percent of California's in-state power generation, 6 percent of the state's total electricity mix, and about 20 percent of the electricity for the service territory of PG&E.
NRDC, Friends of the Earth and PG&E—together with local environment groups and labor unions—in June 2016 hammered out a landmark agreement last year to close Diablo Canyon by August 2025 and replace its output with lower-cost, emissions-free energy. The agreement also recommended significant transition support to communities and workers affected by the shutdown. NRDC estimated that PG&E customers will save at least $1 billion from the implementation of the agreement compared to keeping the facility's two reactors running. NRDC believes the Joint Proposal also is an inspiring model for other states and countries to follow when faced with the need to close aging and uneconomic nuclear plants.
However, a California administrative law judge who oversaw the proceeding and prepared a draft decision recommended that the commission largely disregard our groundbreaking proposal. In doing so, he dismissed the joint efforts of the multiple and diverse stakeholders represented in the proposal, and largely ignored testimony from the proposal's supporters submitted in numerous briefs and hearings over the past 14 months. The judge's recommendation was adopted by the commission Thursday with some modest changes.
Under Thursday's decision, PG&E can proceed with its plan to retire the two reactors near San Luis Obispo, 250 miles south of San Francisco. The CPUC said it would use a separate proceeding to determine how to replace the plant's output. While noting "it is the intent of the Commission to avoid any increase in greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the closure of Diablo Canyon," the CPUC missed a golden opportunity to begin a transition to zero-carbon replacement in rejecting the proposed 53 percent increase in how much energy PG&E should help its customers save through energy efficiency programs, a prominent feature of the Joint Proposal.
The CPUC decision also:
- Makes no explicit provision for replacing any part of Diablo Canyon's output with zero-carbon resources; and
- Disallows more than half of the Joint Proposal's recommended transition support to plant workers and their communities (cutting $226 million out of a seven-year total of $448 million), which is crucial to ensuring the plant's safe and reliable operation.
Worker retention is a major concern for plant safety, as well as for the small communities who rely on the plant for tax revenue. The Joint Proposal included $448 million over seven years for worker retention, retraining and development programs, as well as community funds to maintain critical community services in the remaining years of operation. However, the commission instead authorized less than half that for workers, jeopardizing the ability for the plant to retain its skilled, cohesive workforce and refused to authorize any transition aid for essential services in the small, remote communities where they live.
Ensuring that the plant's nuclear power will be replaced with lower cost, pollution-free resources is also a critical point. A precipitous shutdown could prompt a shift toward more polluting sources of power, such as natural gas, which could derail California's climate goals. The final decision included a commitment to avoiding a spike in greenhouse-gas-free emissions, but failed to authorize even a modest initial investment in energy efficiency to start to replace the output of the huge plant. We will work to ensure the separate regulatory proceeding corrects those omissions.
With this decision, the CPUC failed to take a promising step for California electricity customers and climate. Instead, the commission punted on critical support needed to ensure an orderly transition and avoid a spike in carbon pollution.
Given the lack of action on replacement resources and the disregard for the needs of plant workers and host communities, it is possible the California Legislature will take action to address these issues. And NRDC will continue to advocate forcefully before the commission in support of increased investment in the clean energy options like energy efficiency, solar and wind, to offset the loss of generation from Diablo Canyon's retirement.
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The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.