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“Right now, there is a petition…for a ballot initiative that would effectively shut down the two nuclear power plants in California. I believe we will see more of that across the country if America doesn’t have confidence in the NRC. — If the NRC does not do its job, the American people will demand the ultimate protection – the shutdown of old nuclear power plants that have similar characteristics as the Fukushima plant.”— Senator Barbara Boxer to NRC Commissioners – 12/15/2011.

 

The initiative to close California’s nuclear power plants has been cleared to gather signatures, this time with a new, improved, and much less-nuclear-friendly fiscal analysis.  However, the fiscal analysis leaves one crucial question looming:

Is the California Legislative Analyst’s Office predicting rolling blackouts in Southern California this summer?

Last June the California Nuclear Initiative (CNI), an initiative to close the state’s two nuclear power plants (San Onofre and Diablo Canyon), took the Legislative Analyst’s Office (LAO) to the State Supreme Court for providing the state’s voters with false and misleading information (see Petition for Writ of Mandate). That misleading information was the LAO’s insistence that closing the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) would cause rolling blackouts in the LA Basin and cost the state tens of billions of dollars annually. That misleading information effectively ended our chances of gaining enough signatures to place the initiative on the ballot last November. CNI requested the Court strike those portions of the LAO’s analysis claiming there would be rolling blackouts costing billions annually because the LAO provided no evidence to support this claim. Though the Supreme Court declined to hear the case, it did not issue a decision on the merits of the action thus leaving CNI the option of pursuing the issue in the state’s lower courts. Instead, we chose a more direct route — to file the initiative again and give the LAO a chance to reconsider. They reconsidered, and on January 18th handed CNI a major victory.

In an unprecedented action, the LAO changed a fiscal analysis by removing all references to billions of dollars of cost from their analysis. However, the LAO did recognize the potential savings to the state of billions of dollars should we avoid a nuclear accident by closing our nuclear power plants as soon as possible, though the LAO still inferred in the fiscal analysis that rolling blackouts are a likely result of closing SONGS.

How do they explain this? They don’t. We can guess that the LAO still sees a potential for blackouts, but sees these potentials as so remote that they will cost the state less than a billion dollars. If this is their logic they could have justifiably suggested the blackouts would cost the state millions instead of billions. But they don’t. In any case, SONGS has not operated now for over a year, and the state is planning on the probability of another summer without the nuclear power plant. Yet the LAO is the only state agency inferring blackouts may occur this summer without SONGS. (See LAO analysis for this initiative at http://www.lao.ca.gov/ballot/2012/120640.aspx).

To get the LAO to change its analysis that shutting down California’s nuclear power plants would cost the state billions, we had to file the initiative four separate times and take them to court. The first time we filed was within a few weeks of the tragic Fukushima nuclear disaster. However, when our state’s nuclear activists saw the price tag that the LAO placed before voters on this initiative, they balked at giving our initiative their support. We then refiled the initiative to see if we could get the LAO to reconsider their conclusion that closing the nuclear plants could cost the state many billions of dollars annually. We beefed up our original argument that the state would take whatever emergency actions were necessary to insure rolling blackouts did not occur. The LAO refused to budge, but we went ahead with the initiative drive anyway, hoping to garner grass roots support as we went.

Then last January SONGS went down after a radiation leak and stayed down; and it is still down due to severe wear and defects in newly-replaced steam generators. And the state did take emergency actions just as we predicted. In steps coordinated through the Governor’s office, the state’s major energy agencies (the Public Utilities Commission, the Energy Commission, and the Independent System Operator (CAISO)) along with various state air and water quality Boards, and the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, all worked together to create a plan to avoid rolling blackouts in California, and their plan worked.

In the history of SONGS, both nuclear reactor units have never been closed at the same time. But now that they are both shutdown we have irrefutable proof that ameliorative actions can be taken to avoid rolling blackouts in the LA Basin, even through the hot summer months of peak energy use. With this proof in hand, we filed the initiative a third time and assumed the LAO would then surely remove the “costing billions” language out of its analysis. They did not.

In their third fiscal analysis, the LAO again claimed there would be rolling blackouts costing billions because the emergency actions that were taken by the state in 2012 depended on the Huntington Beach Unit 3 and 4 gas fired plant, scheduled to be retired again before the summer of 2013. However, documents received by CNI from Records Act requests showed that the LAO again had insufficient evidence to support this claim of blackouts.

That is when we proceeded to the State Supreme Court and detailed why the occurrence of rolling blackouts had no basis in evidence, and that there was substantial evidence to the contrary. Some of the evidence we presented is a statement from Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Chairman Jon Wellinghoff referring to the state’s emergency response to the SONGS outage. Commission Chair Wellinghoff stated, “There may be somewhat of a silver lining to this outage…It can help us better understand…the benefits from calling on those resources to be flexible.” He added, “You couple these things together and there certainly may be the opportunity to retire certain types of resources like nuclear facilities if the state were to choose to do so.”

Shortly after the LAO survived our court challenge, it became clear there was a significant probability that SONGS would be inoperative through the summer of 2013, thus testing the LAO’s most recent prediction that blackouts would occur as a result of this shutdown. The LAO proved wrong again. Currently, the emergency actions taken by the state have led CAISO to predict the state will enjoy a comfortable, blackout-free summer in 2013, and that the potential for blackouts will lessen in the future. So why did the LAO leave the reference to blackouts in their current fiscal analysis of our initiative? And why is the LAO the only state agency predicting rolling blackouts if our initiative closes our two nuclear power plants?

Have we, CNI, prevailed over the LAO soon enough to maintain the political momentum that the ongoing Japan triple nuclear meltdowns provide California Activists? Will the press take our initiative seriously this time? With the second anniversary of Fukushima just a month away, can we rekindle the spark and ignite grass roots anti-nuclear groups into action? Having failed once, can we mount a successful signature gathering campaign and place this initiative before the voters of California? We intend to find out. We intend to succeed. We have set a precedent in the initiative process by convincing the LAO to change its mind. We have a new initiative in hand. We have a fiscal analysis that no longer mentions billions of dollars of costs to the state. We are in the process of circulating this new information to the activists and environmental groups that previously found the price tag too high, and to the press who previously focused on the erroneous fiscal analysis prepared by the state. We have hope.