By Jason Fordney
Pacific Gas and Electric has signaled it will challenge a California administrative law judge’s recommendation that the utility be granted only about 10% of the $1.8 billion in recovery it requested for the retirement of the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant in San Luis Obispo County.
The California Public Utilities Commission has scheduled final oral arguments for Nov. 28 over a joint settlement agreement filed by PG&E and interest groups regarding the plant, which the utility has proposed to shut down when its federal operating licenses expire in 2024 and 2025. PUC Administrative Law Judge Peter Allen on Nov. 8 approved the retirement plan but proposed that PG&E be allowed to recover about $190 million of the nearly $1.8 billion in requested rate recovery detailed in the settlement. Allen’s decision has no weight until voted upon by the five-member commission.
“While the proposed decision preserves several elements of the joint proposal, it differs in regards to certain key areas, including the employee, community and energy replacement programs,” PG&E said in a Nov. 8 statement, adding that it “strongly disagrees with these proposed adjustments.”
The utility said it thinks the proposed settlement is appropriate, and “we look forward to advocating for this in our comments back to the CPUC and during final arguments at the end of November.”
PG&E first filed the settlement it forged with environmental, labor and anti-nuclear groups in August 2016. It would replace output from the 2,240-MW facility with a portfolio of renewable resources, energy efficiency measures and energy storage. (See PG&E Files Diablo Canyon Shutdown Request.)
The utility requested approval to recover $1.3 billion for energy efficiency procurement, $363 million for employee retention and retraining, $85 million to mitigate impacts on the local community, $19 million for license renewal activities, and unspecified canceled capital project costs.
Allen’s proposed decision rejected the energy efficiency money and approved $172 million for employee retention and retraining, $19 million for license activities, and a portion of canceled project costs. He recommended that issues related to the procurement of replacement capacity be handled in an integrated resource planning proceeding.
The judge sided with the Office of Ratepayer Advocate (ORA) and Energy Producers and Users Coalition (EPUC), which noted that state policy already requires PG&E to first meet its resource needs through all available energy efficiency resources. PG&E has proposed to increase its approved energy efficiency goals by more than 53% for 2018-2024, which ORA and EPUC indicated would only be possible by lowering PUC’s cost-effectiveness threshold.
“ORA and EPUC make a good point — it is not clear that PG&E could actually procure over 50% more energy efficiency than a goal that is already supposed to include all cost-effective energy efficiency (unless PG&E procures energy efficiency that is not cost effective),” Allen said. “There is no reason to approve a $1.3 billion rate increase for a proposal that will most likely either fail to achieve its goal or will achieve a goal not worth reaching.”
Allen’s Nov. 8 proposed decision also took issue with a settlement provision that would replace the property tax paid to San Luis Obispo County with $85 million in ratepayer money, arguing that PG&E has no obligation to pay the taxes once the facility shuts down and that utility rates should be used for utility — and not government — services.
PG&E has proposed to replace Diablo Canyon with greenhouse gas-free resources in three tranches: 2,000 GWh of energy efficiency; 2,000 GWh of energy efficiency and renewables; and a voluntary 55% renewables commitment from PG&E. The utility said additional resource procurement could be required to replace Diablo Canyon, the two units of which began operating in 1985 and 1986. The plant is used as a system resource and not for local reliability, and its output is exported on the bulk transmission system.
The settlement is supported by the Natural Resources Defense Council, Friends of the Earth, Environment California, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 1245, Coalition of California Utility Employees and the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility.
Protests against the settlement were filed by California Large Energy Consumers, Californians for Green Nuclear Power, EPUC, several cities, the Sierra Club, Shell Energy North America, SolarCity, public interest groups and others.
After a 25-day public comment period, the ALJ’s proposed decision will be forwarded to the PUC. PG&E has requested that the commission reach a decision on the settlement by the end of the year.