Diablo panel marks a year, gazes inward

SAN LUIS OBISPO — A year and a fortnight after their initial formation, the Diablo Canyon Decommissioning Engagement Panel’s agenda turned toward review of their own mandates and effectiveness as the final closure of the nuclear power facility draws nearer.

Meeting with all their normal trappings inside the public hearing room at the County of San Luis Obispo’s Government Center, June 12,  the 12-member panel (11 community members and a PG&E representative) took seats in the room normally occupied by the County’s Board of Supervisors. But contrary to appearances it’s not a government formed entity.

In fact, the group’s charter forbids actively serving elected officials from becoming members, and as three of the membership slots are due to turn over this year, panelist Alex Karlin, a San Luis Obispo-based environmental attorney, wanted to examine those restrictions.

With two presentations on the agenda regarding their effectiveness as a public outreach mechanism, and potential changes to the charter there was pushback on Karlin’s characterization of the panel as being, to paraphrase, of, by and for PG&E, with former panelist and Former County Supervisor Frank Mecham noting that his outreach to sitting mayors and current supervisors had found little interest in their getting directly involved with the panel’s efforts.

Jim Welsch, the utility company’s representative on the panel and the corporation’s Chief Nuclear Officer, said PG&E was willing to work with whatever direction the panel wanted to take, “this panel does not represent [the interests of] PG&E,” he said, adding that particularly as regards storage and removal of spent nuclear fuel still being housed at the site,  “We’ve already made adjustments to our proposals based on feedback being generated and the recommendations of this panel.”

Panelist Nancy O’Malley, a physician and Avila Beach resident, noted that the year the panel had spent in direct consultation with PG&E staff getting a crash course education in nuclear energy, and plant systems was not a bad thing, with the group recognizing that they have gotten far more direct answers to questions than would have been traditionally given out through regulatory or legal requests.

The potential solutions to Karlin’s issues with the group's mandates, and funding mechanism through PG&E, noted panelist Kara Woodruff, were in the realms of theoretical discussion.

If the State of California, through the Governor's Office or the California Public Utilities Commission, wanted to create an independent advisory body at some point in the future, “that would be great,” but it wasn’t what they were doing at the moment.

In order to set the stage for the next five years, and beyond, three points were addressed for future business: establishing an independent website for panel without relying on PG&E staff resources and hosting; setting up an independent budget process, although no sources of funding besides PG&E were identified; and considering draft changes to the charter at a special meeting in July.

One potential way to stoke more involvement from San Luis Obispo County, senior staff in particular,  might be to revise panel membership to include public officials as non-voting members. County Planning and Building Director Trevor Keith currently serve on the panel representing himself in lieu of an official County liaison.

For the moment, agendas and meeting videos are available online at slo-span.org/static/meetings-DCDEP.php

Not yet activated but expected to be online soon, DiabloCanyonPanel.org will have more resources.


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