There’s a new vision in the works for Diablo Canyon Power Plant.
Where a pair of nuclear reactors currently sit on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, imagine instead a research facility filled with college students and scientists studying marine life. Thick power lines that stretch across California, now fed with electricity from those turbines, would get instead be powered by off-shore wind turbines. Land that is currently owned by PG&E would once again be maintained by its original stewards, the yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash people.
This is what a massive partnership of business, education, environmental and political players is proposing for the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant once it shutters in 2025.
REACH, a Central Coast economic development group, announced on Friday a memorandum of understanding between Cal Poly, The Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, the nonprofit yak titʸu titʸu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Cultural Preservation Kinship, the Tri-Counties Building and Construction Trades Council and elected officials that would aim “to advance a broad array of community interests related to the future of Diablo Canyon,” according to REACH CEO Melissa James.
“The opportunity before us is to shape the future of existing facilities and infrastructure, plus 12,000 acres of pristine land and 14 miles of unspoiled coastline into an attractive mix of land conservation honoring the legacy of the ytt Northern Chumash, sustainable eco-tourism, renewable energy, water resilience and cutting edge research and development,” James said in the Zoom call announcing the partnership.
“Put simply, we believe that the Central Coast should be the gateway to a new frontier of renewable energy innovation,” she said.
During the Zoom call announcement, several local stakeholders spoke about their vision for the Diablo Canyon site, located just north of Avila Beach.
Many described the potential future uses they see for the parcel of land where most of the nuclear power plant’s actual infrastructure sits – Parcel P – using words like “innovation,” “opportunity” and “grand vision.”
All described a future that combines green energy production with higher education and research opportunities, eco-tourism, land conservation and cultural heritage preservation.
“There is no single perfect solution for replacing Diablo Canyon,” U.S. Congressman Salud Carbajal said during the Zoom call. “However, if we invest in modern solutions to fortify our future, we can emerge with a stronger economy that benefits our workers, and our environment.”
Officials envision a ‘clean energy hub’ with wind power
One of the key facets of the proposed vision is the site’s ability to act as a “clean energy hub.”
“This place is charged with purpose, and so am I,” Third District Supervisor Dawn Ortiz-Legg, whose district includes Diablo Canyon, said during the call. “Today I’m honored to be with my esteemed colleagues as we set forth the intention to create an even broader vision, so this place can be the ideal 21st century model of energy innovation and energy generation.”
Ortiz-Legg noted that Parcel P – and San Luis Obispo County as a whole – is the ideal site for renewable energy resources, given it’s already existing power infrastructure.
“On this climate-changing planet, we must make smart choices for energy needs, and leave this door open to welcome the most technology,” she said. “Preserving the industrial footprint on Parcel P offers the opportunity for San Luis Obispo County to carry on its 100-years-plus tradition of being an energy-exporting county.”
This would likely translate to the site acting as a hub for wind energy, especially given the recent interest surrounding constructing off-shore wind farms along California’s coast.
In 2018, the U.S. Bureau for Ocean Energy Management opened up applications for wind farm locations along California’s coast, including two sites off San Luis Obispo County’s shores.
The bureau is currently considering its leasing options for off-shore wind, but a decision could come as early as the end of this year,
California Assemblyman Jordan Cunningham noted during the call that a recent bill he co-introduced is “the wind in the sails we need to get offshore wind right here off the Central Coast.” AB-525 would require state energy regulators to create a target for California off-shore wind development.
“The Central Coast has the capacity and some unique characteristics to become a clean energy hub,” he said. “And we have the grid time. It’s right there waiting for us to use. We’ve got space in Morro Bay where they’re potentially looking at creating the largest battery storage facility in North America. We need to seize these opportunities.”
Chances for education, research at nuclear power plant site
Another huge facet of the vision for Diablo Canyon’s re-use involves opportunities for higher education and research at the site.
Cal Poly President Jeffrey Armstrong said the San Luis Obispo university is committed to the effort to “unlock greater economic, cultural, academic and social value through the future use of Diablo.”
“It’s a monumental opportunity for our region,” Armstrong said. “We are actively investigating ways we may be able to play a role in research, innovation and educational programming in areas such as off-shore wind, and other renewables, and marine and oceanic research.
“The future of Diablo Canyon represents a gateway to the new frontier of the green economy in renewable energy, and blue economy, in aquaculture,” he said.
The so-called “blue economy” is the “sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihood and jobs, and ocean ecosystem health,” according to The World Bank. Sometimes that term is used to refer to all economic activities related to the ocean, including beach tourism, fishing and marine research.
“Imagine if we could create research cooperation among Cal Poly, other (California State University) and (University of California) partners, and even a national lab to open up new doors of innovation that would spin off new industry and economic opportunity right here on the Central Coast,” Armstrong said. “With our strong tradition have learned by doing Cal Poly is an enthusiastic partner in this effort.“
Armstrong said Cal Poly and its memorandum-of-understanding partners are exploring ways to fund the potential higher education and research facilities, including creating an endowment and a land trust and using PG&E decommissioning funding.
One way to save costs would be to reuse some existing buildings at Diablo Canyon, rather than tearing them down.
Diablo Canyon land could be conserved, returned to Chumash tribe
One of the biggest facets of the group’s plan for the Diablo Canyon site involves the lands surrounding Parcel P.
The actual nuclear power plant buildings sit on a relatively small segment of PG&E’s total Diablo Canyon lands.
On Friday, the ytt Northern Chumash nonprofit, Cal Poly and the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County all announced a separate memorandum of understanding promising to work together to conserve the roughly 10,000 acres of Diablo Canyon Lands between Montaña de Oro State Park and Avila Beach.
The ytt Northern Chumash nonprofit was acting on behalf of the yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe, who once lived on the land now owned by PG&E.
“When REACH invited yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe to join the MOU, it was an act of respect, an acknowledgment of the descendants of the Pecho Coast,” said Scott Lathrop, ytt Northern Chumash nonprofit president. “So on behalf of the ytt tribe, we welcome the opportunity to participate in a community process where our culture, traditions and ancestral connection to the Pecho Coast can guide the future of our homelands.”
Lathrop said the tribe is excited to work with the other groups to preserve the lands surrounding Parcel P, commonly known as North Ranch and South Ranch, and potentially return them to the stewardship of the tribe that walked them for generations.
“yak tityu tityu yak tiłhini Northern Chumash Tribe of San Luis Obispo County and Region has been waiting hundreds of years to once again become the stewards of the Diablo Lands that we were forced to leave without agreement, consideration or compensation,” Tribal Chair Mona Olivas Tucker said in a news release soon after the announcement. “These lands are immensely important to our tribe, and although we lost access, we never lost our connection. This is where our families walked, studied the stars, understood the ocean along with the wildlife, tended to plants and worked strategically to manage the natural resources necessary to thrive.”
Kaila Dettman, executive director of the Land Conservancy of San Luis Obispo County, described the partnership as “a wonderful opportunity for our community.”
“The Pecho Coast is a remarkable and unique part of our county,” she said. “This incredible stretch of coastline has so much to offer.”
Diablo Canyon site is ‘variety of different opportunities,’ REACH CEO says
There are plenty of other potential uses for the site as well.
In a follow up interview with The Tribune, James added that, along with the preservation of the surrounding lands and return to the ytt Northern Chumash Tribe, there is talk about creating cultural education centers, potentially on Parcel P, that would “bring that heritage out into the community.”
Because of its existing desalination plant, the site is also a potential tool in helping to address California’s reoccurring drought problem and provide needed water to both local and state communities, James said.
“I think what you hear from us is there is a lot of alignment and agreement that there’s a variety of different opportunities out there that can coexist,” she said. “And our community is a diverse and eclectic community with a lot of different types of interests. And it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. It can be like an and and all of the above type of approach.”
Added Andrew Hackleman, REACH vice president of strategy, “It’s an and-both type of proposition.”
“This is a broad effort that has very broad community interest,” Hackleman said.” That is one of those situations where we don’t often have this, but there’s a lot of alignment on what could be right, and so we’re wanting to pursue those things.”
When would REACH vision be implemented?
It’s important to note that the plans for Diablo Canyon’s future discussed on Friday are unofficial and far from being implemented.
REACH’s efficacy comes from its collective power and the commitments to leveraging that power at the local and state level to see the vision through.
The decommissioning process for California’s last operating nuclear power plant is constantly in flux and a specific timeline for that is difficult to pin down. As owner of the property, PG&E also has say in what it is willing to do or sell as it goes through the process of shuttering the plant.
On Friday, James said REACH has “had some good dialogue with PG&E over the last week,” regarding the group’s vision. A request for comment on the proposal from PG&E was not immediately returned Friday afternoon.
Meanwhile, much of the potential timeline for when people could see proposed changes go into effect is still up in the air.
James said there are ”different types of uses that could happen immediately,” such as the preservation of the surrounding lands.
“I don’t think that there’s anything that would hold that up,” she said.
But other areas – such as wind energy development or decisions over which buildings stay and which are demolished – are more tricky, and subject to PG&E, state legislation, federal guidance and even private interest by companies.
“It’s also important that we’re able to communicate this and and find commitment both on the part of our community, and you know, maybe a private sector wind company or more,” Hackleman said. “And also PG&E, the landowner, so that so that we’re making sure that future uses are being laid.”
“These are all really, really long-term endeavors,” he said.
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