A nuclear feud

Backer of possible November ballot measure says misleading state analysis foiling anti-nuke campaign

Will state analysis keep an anti-nuke measure off November’s ballot?

Will state analysis keep an anti-nuke measure off November’s ballot?

California’s once and future nuclear warrior is at it again.

Ben Davis Jr., a Santa Cruz resident who helped draft initiatives shutting down Rancho Seco Nuclear Generating Station more than 20 years ago, is pushing a ballot measure that would shutter California’s two remaining power plants at Diablo Canyon and San Onofre. Calling it the “Nuclear Waste Act of 2012,” Davis wants the plants closed until the federal government can store radioactive waste from nuclear power.

The anti-nuclear activist is hoping public concern over last year’s Fukushima Daiichi Power Plant meltdown in Japan will buoy his initiative. But so far, the initiative process has hit a snag.

Davis is struggling to gather the required signatures to get on the November ballot. He blames the state’s nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office, which said the Nuclear Waste Act could “likely” result in rolling blackouts and cost the state billions in yearly energy costs.

Davis believes that analysis killed efforts to gather signatures.

“We lost huge amounts of group support because of the LAO’s misleading report,” said Davis.

The anti-nuclear crusader claims there’s no merit to the LAO’s report, because California has an energy surplus, even after the plant at San Onofre went offline earlier this year and closed indefinitely for unforeseen maintenance problems.

Davis cited figures from the California Energy Commission, which show the state would still have a 21 percent energy surplus during an extremely hot summer without the San Onofre power plant.

“Not only is there no evidence for the LAO’s claim that there would be rolling blackouts, but no agencies stood up for that,” said Davis.

Not so fast, says LAO analyst Tiffany Roberts. She stands behind the report, which was drafted after consultations with the energy commission and the California Independent System Operator, the public agency responsible for managing 80 percent of the state’s daily power needs.

“We’ve done a lot of work with [California ISO], with the California Energy Commission and other energy stakeholders to try to understand what the impact from this initiative would be,” said Roberts. “There’s no basis to say that what we’ve done is misleading.”

But do those state agencies agree with the LAO report?

Both Cal ISO and the energy commission had mixed reactions when the LAO asked for help examining the Davis initiative. In a letter sent to the LAO in October 2011, analyst Ivin Rhyne said “the commission is not in a position to opine formally on the impact of removing nuclear-power plants from operation.”

Instead the commission deferred to Cal ISO, which also wrote to the LAO last October. In that letter, Cal ISO vice president Keith Casey said the state had backup power but remained “concerned” about shutting down the state’s two nuclear plants, which produce more than 9 percent of statewide energy.

“In looking forward to next summer, if faced with the immediate shutdown of [San Onofre], we are anticipating returning to elevated risks of outages particularly in the [Los Angeles] basin and San Diego areas,” Casey concluded.

While California does have an energy surplus, the state can’t automatically direct excess power to trouble spots, stated Cal ISO spokesman Steven Greenlee.

“Just because there’s a surplus doesn’t mean the grid can serve certain areas when they need it,” said Greenlee.

Davis still believes the LAO is overstating the impact from his initiative. On June 13, he filed a petition in California Supreme Court asking to strike LAO references to rolling blackouts from the measure.

That petition was denied on June 20, but Davis says he might file a similar petition in superior court. Even if he succeeds, other nuclear-reform advocates say they still won’t back the initiative.

“I think the public would be better served going through their elected representatives and oversight agencies and demanding them to do their job,” said Rochelle Becker, executive director of Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility. “Let’s push the process that’s already started rather than creating a new one.”