Posted on October 20, 2015

San Luis Obispo County: Conservation at PG&E’s Diablo Canyon, in Good Hands

In recognition of Nuclear Science Week, PG&E’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant spotlights Kelly Kephart and the ways in which she’s employing her professional skills in the nuclear industry to reach beyond energy.

By Adam Pasion

SAN LUIS OBISPO COUNTY — Behind barbed wire livestock fencing, Diablo Canyon Power Plant’s Kelly Kephart, an associate terrestrial biologist, leads the way through coastal scrub and wild grass, down a rugged coastal path to a 10-foot ocean bluff. There, she grabs hold of a rope and descends down to Stillwater Cove, a true ornament of the California coast, and one that has remained largely undisturbed for decades, and perhaps longer.

“I think it’s the most beautiful beach on the property,” said Kephart. Standing atop enormous piles of multicolored Obispo tuft rocks, which the tide rearranges into some new and enigmatic order twice each day, it is hard to argue with her point of view. Directly to the north and a stone’s throw from the beach, Thumb Rock juts 30 feet above the ocean’s surface, bearing an image befitting its name. A vigilant pair of harbor seals monitors every movement of the cove’s unlikely visitors with their heads just above water.

Land managed by PG&E

Stillwater Cove is located within a 14-mile stretch of pristine coastline that is managed by PG&E’s Diablo Canyon.  For nearly four decades, biologists have worked with vigor to sustain the environmental quality of the shoreline, grasslands and forests through a series of innovative best management practices. Kephart’s team is looking to carry forward Diablo Canyon’s strong land stewardship legacy, expending great efforts to protect the natural habitat of Stillwater Cove, which is part of a great expanse of lands surrounding Diablo Canyon. She is part of a new generation of caretakers employed by the utility.

The scenic coastline near PG&E's Diablo Canyon Power Plant. (Currents archive photo.)

Kephart grew up in Torrance, California. As a teen, she began to volunteer in a local preserve, striking her interest in wetlands and the restoration of ecosystems. She attended Cal Poly San Luis Obispo studying forestry natural resources, botany, and soil sciences. Through this program, she learned how to carefully manage forest lands to promote ongoing health, a skillset that she employs most days while working for Diablo Canyon.

“When I saw the biologist position, I felt like it was the perfect fit for me,” said Kephart.

Diablo Canyon’s zero-emissions energy generation that helps to significantly reduce greenhouse gases is an effort that Kephart could endorse, and the utility’s exemplary land stewardship program echoed her own ambitions for conservation.

“As a biologist, when I define clean energy, not only am I looking at clean air, I’m looking at a source of energy that generates a large amount of power that utilizes the smallest amount of land possible. Clean energy has little biological impact on native species,” she said.

Dedication to environmental stewardship

Kephart’s efforts to preserve this delicate landscape are part of a larger picture of conservation efforts at Diablo Canyon. In 2012, the Diablo Canyon Land Stewardship Committee worked with PG&E’s environmental policy department to achieve the Corporate Lands for Learning Certification from the Wildlife Habitat Council. The certification, according to the WHC website, “opens doors to experience innovative teaching and learning techniques and the opportunity to involve [the] community in conservation efforts.” Adhering to stringent guidelines for eligibility, Diablo Canyon has maintained its certification since 2012.

Whether it’s walking Diablo Canyon’s scenic, public access hiking trails to check in on docents, or escorting hikers to tide pools, Kephart’s office is a 12,000-acre expanse of protected lands.

“I am very proud to work for PG&E and Diablo Canyon. We have a great land stewardship team that cares deeply about what we do — the land is in good hands,” said Kephart.

To a new generation of conservationists at Diablo Canyon, nuclear science reaches far beyond energy generation.

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