California Making its Move towards Clean Energy

Major utilities look to renewable technologies as California’s clean energy policy gathers momentum.

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One of California’s biggest energy providers has made a decisive move toward placing renewable energy centre to its business.

The Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (PG&E) announced last week that it would close its nuclear power plant at Diablo Canyon, on the California coast by 2025.

Over the next eight years, PG&E will plan and begin to implement new greenhouse gas-free solutions, in order to replace its nuclear-powered resources.

No particular technology has been announced as core to the project but it is likely solar, and wind power will play significant roles.

Meanwhile, PG&E has made a voluntary commitment to a 55% renewable energy target – a national first for a US organisation.

The decision to shut down the plant involves complex negotiations between state authorities, labour representatives, regulatory bodies and environmental groups, and has been made, in part, says PG&E in recognition of the changing energy landscape in the state.

The Diablo Canyon site, the last active nuclear energy station in the state, has been running for 30 years and provides electricity to 3 million homes in the north-west region of California.

That is 9% of the state’s power needs.

Operating costs for nuclear reactor power facilities are high, especially in terms of maintenance. According to observers in the space, this fact is a significant influence on the stakeholder’s decision to shut the plant.

In 2015, the governor of California, Jerry Brown, signed a climate change bill. Amongst its proposals was a requirement for all of the state’s utilities to have 50% of their energy derive from renewables like solar and wind.

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has advised a strategy, at the same time, to have all new homes be zero-net by 2020 and all commercial buildings by 2030.

Zero-net refers to constructions designed to be energy self-sufficient.

It is this context, say PG&E, that makes “Diablo Canyon’s full output” no longer a requirement to fulfil the needs of its constituency.

There are still 60 operational nuclear power plants in the United States, and most are of the same vintage as Diablo Canyon, which began construction in 1968.

Environmental groups have praised the plan to close the plant arising from a number of factors, other than the most transparent.

Perhaps the key reason is that Diablo Canyon is built only 594.36 kms from an earthquake fault line.

There is a great deal of evidence, say experts, that nuclear energy as a resource is in steep decline in the United States based mainly on the fact that new proposals are not moving forward in a timely fashion or are being scuttled altogether.

PG&E’s new plan needs to be green-lighted by state agencies before it goes ahead.