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New assessment pares down economic impact of Diablo Canyon closure

Flickr/Tracey Adams
Diablo Canyon is slated to start the decommissioning process in 2024.

The economic hit faced by San Luis Obispo County when Diablo Canyon Power Plant (DPCC) closes won’t be as bad as previously estimated, according to a new reportreleased Wednesday.

Mandated by state law, researchers at UC Berkeley prepared the analysis for the California Public Utilities Commission. Besides looking at the overall economic impact of the shutdown, the researchers looked at what’s necessary to safely retire the facility, and make the site eligible for a different use. Currently, about 1,500 people work at Diablo Canyon, making it the county’s second largest employer.

“Previous studies have only considered the negative shocks, whereas we take account of how decommissioning expenditures will substantially offset economic losses attributable to plant closure,” the authors write in the summary. “Assuming that decommissioning expenditures are distributed evenly across ten years, we find a net economic loss of roughly $77 million annually. This impact is far less than previous estimates which placed losses closer to $1 billion per year.”

State senator Bill Monning, who authored a billto force plant owner PG&E to pay $85 million to local entities such as the county, San Luis Coastal school district and cities and pay for a worker retraining program, said he’s encouraged by the report’s findings.

“I think with the lead time, with the mitigation money that we've secured, that some of these impacts will be softened in that there will be time to increase and enhance economic activity in the region,” Monning told KCBX News.

Gene Nelson of Californians for Green Nuclear Power, which lobbies to keep Diablo open and operating, said he questions whether the analysis excluded northern Santa Barbara County, where many DPCC workers live, among other calculations.

“I did not see anything in the report on the indirect effect of the loss of about 10% of California's electricity from an extremely reliable generator,” Nelson wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.

The researchers say a key takeaway from their study is noticing “clear and significant disparities between public and private sector expectations regarding closure impacts.” And that makes “compelling case for determined and expanded commitments to ongoing policy dialog.”

After plant owner PG&E announced it was closing down Diablo, the company convened at panel aimed at bringing the community together to work out the many issues associated with decommissioning—the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel. But critics say the panel is toothless and without resources, and that an independent advisory board should be formed that will bring all stakeholders to the table to work out policy and properly shepherd the years-long decommissioning process.

The researchers did find there was “remarkable agreement about what challenges are most important to overall progress for the local economy.”

A public forum is scheduled for Friday to announce the results of the report and answer questions. Area state lawmakers and the researchers will hold the forum in the San Luis Obispo County board of supervisors chamber at 1 p.m. on June 28.

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