An aerial view of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in southern San Luis Obispo County.
An aerial view of the Diablo Canyon nuclear power plant in southern San Luis Obispo County.  (Joe Johnston / San Luis Obispo Tribune file photo)

The Santa Maria City Council wants more information before agreeing to pony up funding to join a San Luis Obispo County study about the economic effects of  Diablo Canyon’s looming closure.

On Tuesday night, council members heard about a San Luis Obispo County-led effort to evaluate the impacts of the power plant’s closure, and then create a strategy for bringing other high-paying jobs to the region.

Pacific Gas & Electric Co. in June 2016 announced plans to close the nuclear power plant 30 miles northwest of Santa Maria by 2025. 

The facility employs 1,500 people, with an average annual salary of $157,000, and contributes $1 billion annually to the economy, authorities said. 

A number of the those employees, along with those who work for businesses supporting Diablo Canyon’s operations, live in Santa Maria.

“The best information we’ve been able to get from PG&E leads us to believe that about 20 to 25 percent of that workforce lives in northern Santa Barbara County,” said Glenn Morris, CEO/president of the Santa Mara Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“So it’s not the majority of the workforce but it may the largest share if you start slicing that pie up into smaller pieces,” he said.

He added that a significant portion of suppliers are based in the Santa Maria area, noting one small business that provides service and parts representing a significant income from a contract related to the Diablo Canyon vehicles.  

“Our interest in this conversation has very much been how do we work with our neighbors to the north to build a strategy to replace the economic activity, to replace the jobs,” Morris said. “We’re not sure exactly how that will happen yet or what form that will take.”

The Economic Vitality Corporation, a nonprofit group based in San Luis Obispo, is spearheading efforts.

“The ripple effect creates many impacts, many to small business and to citizens that live in our communities,” said Michael Manchak, EVC president. “This is why it’s so important that we work together.” 

The $1 billion economic impact attributed to Diablo Canyon is comparable to the $1.7 billion generated by Vandenberg Air Force Base and $1 billion by UCSB, he said. 

The EVC has proposed hiring a consultant to conduct a two-phase project evaluating the impacts of the power plant’s closure and then creating a strategy.

“I firmly believe this is a great opportunity. This is an opportunity that creates a rally call, if you will, to help diversify the region’s economy because it is such a big impact, and also work together better than ever ,” Manchak said. 

Diablo Canyon has lot of infrastructure, including office space, a marina and other assets that could be used for other business toward diversifying the economy, he said.

A study would cost $1.1 million, with $325,000 coming from San Luis Obispo County and $90,000 from the city of San Luis Obispo, and much smaller amounts from other cities in that county. 

Adding Santa Maria to the study would cost $135,000, he said.

“I guess I’m having trouble with that number,” Councilman Jack Boysen said, asking if Santa Barbara County had been asked to contribute funding to the study.

City Manager Jason Stilwell said discussions have taken place with county representatives, but no commitments were made regarding their participating. 

Councilman Mike Cordero said the Santa Maria funding could pay off if it leads to new jobs for local residents employed by Diablo..

“I think this is very very important and I agree that we should get into it as quickly as possible,” Cordero said.

The report was informational with an action item to approve financing expected to be brought back later. Council members said they hoped to have better numbers related to the employees and suppliers in northern Santa Barbara County.

“The most important thing is we have to do something. We can’t wait. The impact is far too great,” Manchak said.

Noozhawk North County editor Janene Scully can be reached at Follow Noozhawk on Twitter: @noozhawk, @NoozhawkNews and @NoozhawkBiz. Connect with Noozhawk on Facebook.