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Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Diablo Canyon Closure

Diablo Canyon
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. made national news when it announced last week that it will operate the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant through its original license period and then retire the facility in the mid-2020s. Some parties are suggesting—wrongly—that the agreement is a blueprint for nuclear plant retirements in other states.

Don't buy that argument. To be clear: The convergence of policies and events that drove the Diablo Canyon agreement is not desirable and should not be replicated. California residents now confront a risky experiment based on an unbalanced energy future. As NEI's Revis James wrote yesterday at Real Clear Energy:
The anti-nuclear lobby says that a future primarily powered by renewable sources of energy is upon us. We’ve done the math, and the equation doesn’t balance. Rather, this seems more like a flawed experiment that will put greater pressure on consumers through higher electricity prices while increasing, not decreasing, CO2 emissions. It’s not a gamble that others should try.
Some proponents of the agreement wrongly believe they can replace one carbon-free source of electricity with another instead of working to maximize carbon reduction by seeing all zero-emissions sources work together. But there is no guarantee that the anticipated increase in renewables, energy efficiency and energy storage will fully replace Diablo Canyon—which provides 24 percent of the state's carbon-free electricity—by 2025.

In Wisconsin, greenhouse gas emissions jumped more than 15 percent after the premature closure of the Kewaunee nuclear facility. In 2015, New England's emissions jumped by 7 percent because of the shutdown of Vermont Yankee the year before. Emissions will climb even higher when the Pilgrim reactor in Massachusetts closes in 2019.

A study by IHS Energy found nuclear energy's inclusion in a balanced energy portfolio lowers the cost of generating electricity by more than $93 billion per year compared to an energy portfolio limited to renewables and natural gas.

With that in mind, it's better to think of California as an anomaly rather than template for future energy policy.

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