East Bay Community Energy Rejects Nuclear Deal: Victory for East Bay Clean Power Alliance

(05/2020) On the 50th Anniversary of Earth Day, The governing board of East Bay Community Energy (EBCE), the public energy services provider for Alameda County cities, voted 10-5 to keep PG&E’s dangerous Diablo Canyon nuclear energy out of EBCE’s 2020 power mix. 
The vote represented a big victory for the East Bay Clean Power Alliance, which mobilized community opposition to a scheme by which PB&E intended to dump nuclear power on EBCE, an agency set up to develop local renewable energy to benefit East Bay community residents and businesses. “Buying nuclear power from PG&E was the last thing on anyone’s mind when we created EBCE in 2017” said Jessica Tovar, Coordinator of the Alliance. “It was outrageous that we should have to fight this battle in 2020.”

The decision to reject nuclear was the outcome of a highly controversial vote that took place on live stream, in the midst of a global pandemic, while communities are sheltering in place and public participation is limited. About 65 community members—including youth—waited four hours for the last item on the Board’s agenda to give passionate public testimony against buying nuclear energy to power the East Bay.
Back in early October 2019, the Alliance was hearing rumors of East Bay Community Energy’s CEO, Nick Chaset pitching nuclear energy to other Bay Area Community Choice energy programs* and later that month, Chaset casually mentioned to the EBCE Board a deal by which EBCE would be able to obtain carbon-free energy from PG&E—mostly nuclear—for “free.”  
The statement alarmed clean energy advocates. In November, the Alliance informed the Board that community members who advocated for establishing EBCE would not be okay with including nuclear energy in the agency’s power mix.  
EBCE staff referred to the PG&E offer as “carbon free energy,” consisting of large hydro and nuclear, The majority of the offer was PG&E’s nuclear energy from Diablo Canyon in San Luis Obispo, slated to be shut down in 2024/2025, and the target of early shutdown efforts at the California Public Utilities Commission. The call for early shutdown was due not only to the safety issues of running the plant, but that over half of PG&E’s customers taking the power had departed to Community Choice energy programs (like EBCE) and that the costs of production had skyrocketed in recent years. 
PG&E was seeking to unload its excess nuclear power on Community Choice customers to continue to ensure Diablo Canyon’s profitability through California Public Utility Commission (CPUC) support. But understanding the nature of the nuclear offer proved elusive, as the EBCE board and community continued to be mystified by staff reports. What was the actual price of PG&E’s nuclear energy? How would EBCE save money by accepting that energy? Why would it be in the interest of EBCE to provide a market for Diablo Canyon power? 
The main argument for accepting nuclear power, according to EBCE staff, was that the agency could get it cheaper than other carbon-free energy and save some money. Confronted by confusing and inconsistent staff reports, East Bay Clean Power Alliance developed its own fact sheet to inform the community and board about PG&E’s nuclear offer.
The fact sheet showed that the purported savings to EBCE of buying PG&E’s nuclear energy was just a fraction of the costs to EBCE customers of what Diablo Canyon was adding to their electricity bills through the Power Charge Indifference Adjustment (PCIA). The PCIA is an ongoing fee that the CPUC assesses EBCE customers for having left PG&E. It is estimated that about one-third of the PCIA fees subsidize Diablo Canyon nuclear power. The bigger picture looked more like another PG&E bailout. 
Community Response
In the months leading up to the April 22 vote, the East Bay Clean Power Alliance, consisting of over 60 East Bay organizations, collected over 500 signatures on a petition to the EBCE board opposing the adding of PG&E’s nuclear energy to EBCE’s power mix. Accepting Diablo Canyon nuclear energy would have violated Oakland, Berkeley, and Hayward’s “nuclear-free city” ordinances and contradicted EBCE’s commitment to providing clean energy like solar, wind, battery storage and programs that reduce energy waste and consumption. 
The most moving and inspirational part of the April 22 EBCE board meeting was youth testimony from the Rose Foundation’s New Voices are Rising and Youth vs. the Apocalypse. This included youth like Celia Malone, who is Navajo and spoke about nuclear mining and dumping in her family’s native lands. 
“In a place like California known for earthquakes, you are putting us in danger,” said 12 year old Samara Ixchel Nuño of Youth vs the Apocalypse!
 “Knowing that our testimonies were powerful enough to shape and influence the Board members’ thoughts on nuclear power demonstrates why young people need to speak up,” said Lisbeth Ibarra. “There are still more fights to be won, but with young people gathering together, I have no doubt that we can win,” said Celia Malone. It’s important that they [the Board members] know the youth are still watching their decisions that they make in the future,” said Simon Bhuller Riordan.  
The motion to reject nuclear in 2020 was made by EBCE board member Scott Haggerty who represents unincorporated Alameda County. The motion was seconded by Jesse Arreguin of Berkeley and supported by Nick Pilch of Albany, Melissa Hernandez of Dublin, Dianne Martinez of Emeryville, Vinnie Bacon of Fremont, Ed Hernandez of San Leandro, Dan Arriola of Tracy, Jaime Patino of Union City and Dan Kalb of Oakland.  Opposed to the motion was Al Mendall of Hayward, Trish Munro of Livermore, Michael Hannon of Newark, Tim Rood of Piedmont and Jerry Pentin of Pleasanton.
“I am thankful to Supervisor Scott Haggerty and the rest of the East Bay Community Energy Board who voted in favor of the community—especially our outspoken youth.” said the Alliance’s Tovar.  “East Bay Community Energy continues to be a precedent-setting model for a public agency that hears the community’s demand for clean energy, and rejects false solutions to climate change.”

*  Community Choice programs like EBCE, now numbering 19 in California, were established to give the public “the power to choose” (under California Assembly Bill 117 in 2002) where their electricity comes from and what kind of energy it is. In the East Bay, the community, led by the East Bay Clean Power Alliance, established EBCE in 2017 to prioritize local clean energy development, with an emphasis on creating clean energy jobs, community wealth, lower cost energy, less dependence on risky remote transmission, and equitable solutions to climate change. Nuclear energy is none of these.