By Neil Farrell
What’s to become of the Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s surrounding acreage when the nuclear power plant is shuttered in 2025, and the long road of decommissioning begins?
Property owner Pacific Gas & Electric is asking the public what it would like to see happen to those 12,000 acres of mostly unspoiled California Coastal Terraces and foothills. In August and September, PG&E had scheduled public tours of the property, which straddles Point Buchon, spanning some 14 miles of coastline from Montaña de Oro State Park to Port San Luis and Avila Beach.
But seats on those free tours sold out like Garth Brooks tickets at the 2017 Mid State Fair.
Instead, those interested in giving their thoughts on what PG&E should do with the property, can attend any of four daylong meetings on the subject, set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Aug. 17-18 at Pismo Beach City Hall, 760 Matte Rd.; or 8-5 Friday-Saturday, Sept. 14-15 in Atascadero City Hall, 6500 Palma Ave.
The Coast News was recently taken on a private tour of the Diablo property by PG&E spokesman Blair Jones. The company originally leased the property, he explained, driving from the Energy Center on Ontario Road to the plant entrance in Avila Beach. Then the land went up for auction, he added, on the steps of the county courthouse.
“We purchased the plant parcel and the land surrounding it,” Jones said. As the years have passed, he explained, PG&E has bought other parcels that have come up for sale, so now the property totals some 12,000 acres with just about 500 acres used for the actual plant site.
The property is “all parceled out,” he said. Eureka Energy, a subsidiary of PG&E, holds much of it, but has nothing to do with the electrical generation. Large areas are leased for cattle grazing by local ranchers.
A company called, HomeFed Corp., has an apparently ironclad lease on what’s probably the most pristine part of the property — Wild Cherry Canyon — which was the subject of a recent failed attempt to try and purchase for more than $20 million by conservationists.
HomeFed has since floated the idea of building a small community — 1,500 homes — that was naturally met with strong opposition.
That lease arrangement was inherited by PG&E when it bought Wild Cherry Canyon, Jones said. The terms go “well into the next century. PG&E has fee title to the property but it’s a 150-year lease. HomeFed owns the lease and development rights to it. They’re the only entity able to develop it.”
Wild Cherry Canyon is some 2,200 acres and begins off Avila Drive behind a former mobile home park owned by the PSL Harbor District, which wants to redevelop it.
Jones, who noted that their tours would not go through the canyon, said there is no development at all out there.
They are seeking input from the public to satisfy a promise made to the California Public Utilities Commission when PG&E first proposed retiring the plant after its operating licenses expire in 2024 and ’25 — to get robust public input on the property’s future uses.
“This is part of the decommissioning planning process,” Jones said driving over a 2-lane paved road with coastal scrublands and oak trees on one side of the truck and a grassy marine terrace, fenced and dotted with cattle on the other side. “We want public input as to possible repurposing.”
He noted that under federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission rules for decommissioning a nuke plant, they must remove all facilities that were part of the “nuclear” functions of the plant.
So the giant containment domes, the reactors inside, and anything else that was part of that generating system must be removed. Dry casks storing spent fuel rods, and the indoor water pool used to cool the fuel before transfer will stay, at least until the federal government fulfills is bargain with the industry to build a permanent repository for the spent fuel rods.
Diablo Canyon has numerous other buildings — a fire station, warehouses, office buildings, large desalination plant, and more that Jones noted could be repurposed.
There’s also a man made harbor that is part of the seawater cooling intake system. It’s been used for bringing in big pieces of equipment by barge and as a safe harbor by fishing boats and pleasure boaters in bad weather, Jones said. It also has a lot of wildlife that use the little harbor protected by two breakwaters.
And decommissioning itself, Jones said, will last decades and cost an estimated $3.8 billion. PG&E has been putting away money for many years and has some $2.5 billion saved up, he explained, but will go to the PUC to cover the shortfall.
“When we announced that we were not renewing the operating licenses at the plant,” Jones explained, “that gave us a long lead time to pan for decommissioning. Other plants have not enjoyed this type of lead time and opportunity to plan.”
The decommissioning panel the company put together and which will be leading the upcoming meetings, was the first step in the process they laid out for the PUC. The public tours and meetings are another step. The company was working on a video about the property that will be posted on PG&E’s website.
What you’ll see is a winding road hugging the hillside high above the coastline. The power plant itself is about half way in on the property’s 14-mile coast, which can be accessed now via the Point Buchon Trail from Montaña de Oro or the Pecho Coast Trail out of PSL.
Indeed, on our tour a trio of women were hiking the Point Buchon Trail walking past grazing cattle, separated by an electric wire. It’s a bucolic setting with terrain matching that of the state park.
It includes the Port San Luis Lighthouse and Rattlesnake Canyon, Jones said. There are also several sizable rocks just offshore; home to a sea lion colony and numerous sea birds. There are also patches of kelp forests, rugged rocky shores and small, secluded beaches, too. And there are Native American archeological sites scattered about that will need protecting.
In December, Jones said, they are scheduled to make a report to the PUC on the decommissioning process. They will have more concrete cost estimates then.
The idea that the public might get unfettered access to the land is likely not going to happen. With the plant site still containing spent fuel rods stored on site well into the future, there will be security at the plant.
“The casks are ready to be transported to a storage facility,” he said. “The whole [nuclear] industry is waiting for the feds to establish a used fuel storage facility.”
And while the plant will cease making electricity, the 500,000 volt power lines that run from the plant and towers will have to stay, as they are an integral part of the state’s power grid. “The 230,000 volt lines out of Morro Bay [power plant, also shuttered] will no longer be needed,” Jones said. “But the larger 500KV system will be needed. They’re the only lines connected to our plant.”
The Decommissioning Panel’s next meeting is set for 7-9:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 29 at the County Government Center in Downtown SLO. To find out more about panel public meetings, see: www.pge.com/engagementpanel.