A lot of people today hope that when the Diablo Canyon nuclear plant's licenses to operate expire in 2024 and 2025, they will not be renewed, and the plant will close. I confess I am one of them. The thought of making radioactive waste that will remain lethal for hundreds of thousands of years makes me cringe. Don't forget that the waste is the raw material for nuclear weapons as well as conventional weapons (our military uses "spent uranium" artillery shells in conflicts all over the world).
Add to this the possibility of reactor meltdown or serious accident. If any sane person doubts this possibility, that is. Japan, India, France, Russia and the U.S.—who's next? The uses to which we put the power generated by nuclear plants is hardly a credit to our ideals. Video games, blow dryers, entertainment centers, televisions, computers playing screensaver programs, lights burning in empty rooms...none of which is essential to human survival.
While talking with an acquaintance, he posed a question: could we save enough electricity through conservation to offset the need for Diablo Canyon's electricity? According to multi-colored pie graphs enclosed with my electric bill three months ago, nuclear power represents 30% of the provider's electrical supply. I have heard 20% from other sources. Considering PG&E's record for honesty, other sources may be more reliable. As an aside, these same pie graphs list less than 3% of the electricity as coming from wind and solar. If PG&E had spent as much money on purchasing wind and solar electricity as they spent on a recent advertising campaign trying to convince you they purchased this power, we'd be a lot further toward conservation goals.
Saving 20% to 30% of the electricity we use—is this a possible goal? How? Having done it, I can say it is possible. It may not be easy. Simply put, every time you turn on anything electrical, you ask yourself if this is necessary. Is there another way, another option? Do I really need this light on? Must I stand in front of an open refrigerator door to decide what I want, or can I decide what I want with the door closed, quickly open the door and get my item out, then close the door? Can I turn off this device? Unplug it? Do I need to use an electric power tool, or can I do it by hand?
If you insist on comfort, or luxury, or self-indulgence instead of conservation, congratulations! You are among the reasons the Diablo Canyon power plant exists. If you truly want it to close, you won't use its electricity. Electric toothbrush? No, mine is manual. Electric garage door opener? My left arm works well. Electric air conditioning? Get real! NO. I open windows at night, cooling the house as much as possible, then keep things closed during the heat of the day for as long as possible. And yes, when temperatures reach 90 degrees or more in my house, I suffer. But I do not air condition. Admittedly, a coastal climate helps.
Now, I do not claim the title of conservationist. Minimalist is more like it. My last electric bill showed a charge of $4.44 for 30 days of electric service and a use of 37 kilowatt-hours of electricity. This includes use of a refrigerator, lights, television, electric amusements, power tools—even the occasional use of a microwave oven. It could be possible to use even less.
Are you one of those people who leaves a light burning all night outside your house, or just forgets to turn it off? If you leave a 100-watt incandescent bulb on eight hours per night for 30 days, you have used 24 kilowatts of power. Sure, it's only a couple of bucks, but generating constant power day and night is one of the main reasons utilities trot out to justify nuclear plants. If you replace that incandescent bulb with a compact florescent, you have reduced your consumption to less than six kilowatts. Maybe that 30% can be achieved after all.
I won't argue the claim that turning a computer off and on is a risk of burning it out, but when I'm done playing with mine, off it goes. A video-type player draws enough current when turned off to feel warm when I touch its case, so it is unplugged when not in use. Battery chargers get unplugged when they are not needed. Some electrical devices draw power when they are not in use—this is shown as "standby" power consumption in the literature, which comes with the device. Shop carefully when you buy—some use less than others. Do you really need gadgets built into your refrigerator, like a clock, a TV or an automatic icemaker and cold water dispenser ? All these things use lots of electricity.
Despite having enough hydroelectric power to supply 40% to 60% of its power, depending on the season and whether other plants (like nuclear) are running at capacity, California pays among the highest rates per kilowatt hour in the nation. Hydroelectric power is cheap, so why is the electricity expensive? The cost of building, operating and trying to justify a nuclear power plant is part of the problem. Diablo Canyon's hidden expenses loom over ratepayers' heads. Too bad it was ever built.
Did you know that San Luis Obispo County had a functioning solar plant near the Carrizo Plain in the 1980s? It no longer exists because PG&E would not pay six cents per kilowatt hour for its electricity, despite the estimate that at that time a kilowatt hour from Diablo Canyon cost 8.2 cents to generate, all things considered. The solar plant was dumped by its corporate builder as soon as federal tax credits expired, and legislation forcing PG&E to buy alternative power would come years later (yes, PG&E had to be forced to buy solar power).
So an environmentally-disastrous power plant is now asking for an extended life. If you think that the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission or the California Public Utilities Commission will do anything to shut down Diablo Canyon on their own, you are mistaken. While these agencies may demand plant upgrades to address potential threats, they don't have the will or the power to demand that PG&E close it. The only way Diablo Canyon can shut down is if "we the people" rise up and demand it.
A little conservation just might help. Wouldn't 20% or 30% of your electrical bill look better in your pocket instead of PG&E's? How about dealing a fairly evil corporation a financial blow? Conservation is one of the few weapons consumers have. For all these reasons, and more...conserve!