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PG&E Offer Of Free Electricity From Nuclear Power Plant Raises Ethical Dilemma

BERKELEY (KPIX 5) -- PG&E is offering clean energy providers in the East Bay millions of dollars of electricity at no cost, but the source of the electricity is proving to be a deal breaker for some.

Community choice energy companies or CCA's have been taking business away from PG&E for a few years now.  So it came as a surprise to East Bay Community Energy when the utility recently offered up to $11 million worth of carbon-free energy.

The catch?  The power comes from the Diablo Canyon Power Plant, the only operational nuclear power plant in the state of California. That poses a major problem for a nuclear-free zone like Berkeley.

"Nuclear energy is known for having waste that lasts for hundreds of thousands of years," said Berkeley resident Kathleen Croker.

When asked if she wouldn't want the electricity even if it was free, Croker replied, "That's correct."

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguin agreed. He sits on the board of East Bay Community Energy and says if they accept the offer, customers will question the very purpose of the agency.

"How are we different from PG&E?" he asked. "And I think if people look at the power content label and it says 'nuclear,' I think that's going to be a real black mark for the agency."

But the energy is not really free at all. CCA's that draw customers away from PG&E have to pay an annual "exit fee" to reimburse the utility for its energy production costs, including Diablo Canyon. So the agencies would be refusing the energy even though their customers will still be paying for it.

The nuclear plant is scheduled to close in 2025. Activist Jessica Tovar with the advocacy group Local Clean Energy Alliance suspects the offer is an attempt to keep that from happening.

"PG&E is really pulling on the greedy strings of community choice programs," she said. "If they take this, it will justify keeping Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant open. And we don't want to do that."

Community choice providers across the Bay Area are facing the same dilemma: protect their bottom line or stay true to their philosophical mission?

"Do we want to be cleaner and greener and more affordable than PG&E? Or do we want to adopt PG&E's same approach? That really is what's at stake," said Arreguin.

Activists are campaigning to close Diablo Canyon early. They say they will address the East Bay Community Energy board at its next meeting on February 19th.

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