Diablo Canyon: A Just Transition for Workers and the Environment

Tom Dalzell

Guest Blogger Series: Voices of Labor and Allies from Labor in the Climate Transition Conference

Governor Newsom and the new Legislature will face many hard challenges in meeting the state’s increasingly stringent goals for emissions reduction. Fortunately, most of their new steps are likely to create large numbers of new jobs, as climate policies to date have done. But it’s possible that some of these steps may cause a shakeout in fossil-fuel industries. If so, a fundamental premise should be that workers must not be made to pay the price.

For that reason, state policymakers can look at one of the major successes of the past year—the landmark deal to shut down Diablo Canyon, California’s last nuclear power plant, while helping its workers and communities switch to a post-nuclear economy. We can be proud that the deal was not just a big step for California, but also a model for the nation and the world.

Our union, IBEW Local 1245, represents the Diablo Canyon workers, and for the past few years we worked with PG&E, environmentalists, and local communities to negotiate a deal for the nuclear plant’s scheduled 2025 shutdown. This year, the plan was approved by the Legislature and signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

The negotiations to reach the agreement weren’t easy. But they were possible because everyone involved, even those who had been enemies for over three decades, put down their swords long enough to chart a path worth taking together.

The union’s top priority, of course, was first and foremost taking care of the 500 high-skill, high-wage employees at the plant. In 2012, the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant was forced abruptly into closure, and it put a lot of our brothers and sisters out of work. That disaster made crystal clear that if Diablo Canyon had to close, advance planning would be needed to ease workers into retirement or into new jobs.

Here’s how: A core part of the plan was an agreement to keep the plant operational until the end of its license with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, through 2025, and we negotiated a 25 percent retention bonus for workers to remain at the plant through its closure. For workers who were close to retirement, the additional income was welcome news. For younger workers, the plan provided an opportunity to remain in the community and expand their skills thanks to a training program to transition them into the ongoing work of decommissioning the plant–work that would otherwise have been offered to outside contractors.

As much as the workers were owed a just transition, we saw that the local community needed one too. Diablo Canyon’s closure would mean a painful loss in the region’s tax base, so we pushed for a $85 million package to help mitigate that blow.

Perhaps surprisingly to many, we wanted the agreement to ensure a just transition for the environment, too. Diablo Canyon generates almost 9 percent of California’s electricity, and we didn’t want to see more fossil fuels being burned to fill the energy demand. We did not want to see a repeat of the increased carbon emissions in the aftermath of the San Onofre closure, and we agreed that the replacement power would be carbon free. Even environmental groups like Friends of the Earth, which was founded in 1970 with the singular goal of shutting down nuclear power, saw the importance of keeping the plant open for seven more years to allow for this just transition.

Diablo Canyon’s closure agreement was a result of workers, local policymakers, environmental advocates, utilities and regulators’ understanding that it was in no one’s interest to shut down the plant immediately, and in everyone’s best interest to build a long, seven-year runway.

The details of this plan were particular to Diablo Canyon, and future transition deals elsewhere will necessarily be different. But we got the basics right, and they show how workers and communities can become central players, not roadkill, in the clean energy transition.

“Pivot” is a fancy buzzword that basically means you’re going to forget what you’ve been doing and do the opposite. I believe that environmentalists largely support worker goals, and unions largely support environmental goals. I’m glad to see that we all were able to pivot, for the sake of our environment, the local community, and California’s workers.


Tom Dalzell is the Business Manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1245