A single, devastating California fire season wiped out years of efforts to cut emissions from the state’s power sector. And it was largely ignored by policymakers and the media.
Now, for the first time, The Times is offering the first comprehensive look at how those efforts were lost. The story, reported by our sister paper The San Francisco Chronicle, is a brutal wake-up call for the future of climate change and what it means for the state.
The story begins with the San Francisco Bay Area. It’s a place where a relatively clean energy future is already thriving. But there was one piece of the Bay Area puzzle that was left behind: its vast underground nuclear power system. It took decades to create.
At first, it was in the same company with the vast underground oil and gas reserves. By the time it was finished, the region’s population was close to 1 million. (Today it’s more than 3 million.) The technology is now being used to produce electricity in more places than any other country. And in 2018, it was selected to host a Nobel Prize.
But that clean energy future was, until Monday, almost entirely invisible to the outside world. And that makes sense: The region is home to more than 5,000 nuclear power plants, accounting for about a quarter of the world’s electricity and almost 3 billion of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions.
The San Francisco Bay Area has one of the world’s largest nuclear energy networks, serving 4,000 megawatts of electricity production. But that comes with one big downside: It’s the only part of the U.S. that doesn’t get all its electricity — about half the nation’s consumption — via coal plants burning tons of carbon dioxide.
By the time the region’s nuclear plants shut down, it will be nearly 70 years since its last natural gas power plant.
So when, on Monday, Santa Rosa’s Three Mile Island unit finally gave up the ghost, the news was quickly reported. It will be the largest nuclear plant in the U.S. to shut down since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and the most powerful in California to do so ever.
But the San