Dubroff: Wind, batteries could replace nuclear energy on the central coast
The Biden administration has moved at unusual speed to close the potential gap in electric power generation left by the closure of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in San Luis Obispo County.
Just as concerns have been raised about alternative energy after the Diablo Canyon twin reactors shut down after 2025, the administration announced on May 25 a deal that could potentially speed up a wind farm off Morro Bay.
The Morro Bay plant, combined with a proposed onshore battery storage facility near the site of a former natural gas power plant, would at least partially replace Diablo Canyon as a base or permanent power source.
California faces a potential power deficit, with increasing demand for electricity for cars and cooling, combined with the loss of Diablo Canyon. But it’s also true that during peak solar generation times California has more electricity than it can sell, and part of the argument for shutting down Diablo Canyon was that the two reactors at the plant are producing more base power than expected by PG&E forecasters.
The proposed Morro Bay facility would have the capacity to control its production during peak periods and also to store excess production. Morro Bay has both wind and power lines, so it’s easy to add new infrastructure without having to rebuild the entire power grid. It is also located in the center of the coast.
One issue, which the Biden administration appears to have resolved relatively quickly, is that the Defense Department has been reluctant to approve offshore power generation in areas where it conducts advanced weapon systems testing, both on the surface and underwater. He also sought to protect the area around Vandenberg Air Base. The deal that paves the way for the Morro Bay station appears to have solved that problem by restricting the area for new power platforms, while still giving the Pentagon enough space for testing.
In the debate over extending the life of Diablo Canyon reactors, California has made a powerful argument that the millions of gallons of hot cooling water released into the ocean each year cause environmental damage and contribute to the climate change.
A new generation of nuclear reactors that are gaining favor around the world, although slower in the United States, would be smaller, safer, and would not have the cooling water discharge problem that is part of the design. reactors in the middle of the 20th century which constitute the most of the current American nuclear fleet.
A Morro Bay wind farm and storage unit would pose their own environmental challenges, including bird strikes and the supply of rare earth metals used to make batteries. But it would also be a serious investment in infrastructure and clean energy jobs that the new administration has promised.
And wind farms inherently involve more maintenance than the largely passive and massive solar fields built a decade ago in the northeastern part of San Luis Obispo County.
The gist of the proposed Morro Bay project is that there are a lot of moving parts that need to come together in an uncertain political time. But it seems possible – perhaps likely – that when the Diablo Canyon factory goes down, a wind and battery replacement project will be ready to take its place.
With California regulators and utilities aligned with the project, getting taxpayers to fund the project shouldn’t be a problem.
• Henry Dubroff is the owner and editor of The Business Times. It can be reached at [email protected]