May 4, 2011 10:04 PM by Nancy Chen

Dissecting Diablo: Its impact on local economy

The disaster in Japan is giving new fuel to local nuclear power critics who would like to see Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant shut down.

But what would happen to the local economy if they got their way?

Diablo Canyon doesn't just bring controversy to the area; there's no denying it also ushers in significant money and jobs while lighting up homes in northern and central California.

And even though most of us can't actually see Diablo tucked behind the gates there in Avila Beach, we would certainly recognize the impact if it closed.

For one, it's very likely the electricity you're using to power your computer right now comes from Diablo Canyon.

The power plant provides electricity for nearly three million homes in northern and central California.

One 2009 Cal Poly report commissioned by PG&E estimated that Diablo Canyon produced more than $653 million of electricity in 2009 alone.

And it powers the economy too; in a place known for its lack of jobs that pay well enough to support a family, Diablo Canyon has 1,200 employees.

"Regardless of how somebody feels about Diablo, the economic impact is something that almost everyone agrees," said Dave Garth, the president of the San Luis Obispo Chamber of Commerce. "And it's really tremendous job generator in a county that has not that many head-of-household jobs."

PG&E paychecks are pretty hefty compared with county averages.

The Cal Poly report found that the county median household income was about $60,000 while the average salary of a Diablo Canyon employee is nearly $100,000.

PG&E is the largest private employer in San Luis Obispo County and had a payroll of almost $152 million in 2009.

"Without the opportunity of PG&E and the plant here, I probably would not be in this area," said Cary Harbor, the director of maintenance services.

But what would happen if these protestors won and our nuclear neighbor shut down?

The Cal Poly report estimates that more than 3,000 people would lose their job from virtually every sector of the local economy if Diablo Canyon left.

Garth agrees--job loss wouldn't just be at the plant.

"The lack of spending would cause businesses to close throughout the county," he said. "Jobs would be lost in lots of other businesses, and so there would be a lot of pain felt throughout the whole county."

And there is a lot of spending.

From 2006 to 2009, the company spent more than $73.5 million.

And the money goes to cities up and down the Central Coast from Paso Robles to Santa Maria.

The top beneficiaries by city in 2009 were San Luis Obispo, Santa Maria, Templeton, Nipomo and Arroyo Grande.

And children would also see the effects of life without Diablo.

Eric Prater is the superintendent of the San Luis Coastal Unified School District, which has a $75 million general fund.

He says property taxes paid by PG&E contribute an average of 15 percent to that fund and that it would be catastrophic for the district if the plant shut down.

Diablo Canyon is the largest property taxpayer in the county, paying $24 million in the 2009-2010 fiscal year.

PG&E says more than $15 million of that went to local schools.

Prater says the ripple effect would be seen everywhere in his district at a time when schools are already facing incredibly slashed budgets.

"Everyone would feel it, no matter what--from class sizes to early literacy development to math to a lack of professional development for our teachers," he said.

But are the benefits worth the risk of living next to a nuclear power plant?

One thing is sure--there are no easy answers when it comes to Diablo Canyon.

The report also says the majority of Diablo Canyon land would be used for cattle grazing if the plant shut down.

Hiking and biking paths would also likely be built as an extension of Montana de Oro; the report put the value of that real estate at $65 million in 2009.



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