CPUC considers probe into San Onofre nuclear plant outage

The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) said Oct. 16 that it has issued a proposal that would open a formal investigation into the extended outages at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) Units 2 and 3.

The proposed investigation could include whether to immediately remove all costs related to SONGS from the rates of Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E) going forward, and to refund SONGS-related costs already collected in rates back to Jan. 1. 

SCE is the operator and largest owner of the 2,000-plus-MW nuclear plant in San Diego County. It is a subsidiary of Edison International (NYSE: EIX). SDG&E, a minority owner of the nuclear plant, is a subsidiary of Sempra Energy (NYSE: SRE).

The CPUC’s Commissioners will vote on whether to open the investigation at the CPUC’s Oct. 25, 2012, voting meeting in Irvine, Calif.

The investigation would consider the causes of the outages, the utilities’ responses, the future of the San Onofre units, and the resulting effects on the provision of safe and reliable electric service at just and reasonable rates.

Typically these issues are examined by the CPUC in various proceedings. The investigation would consider these issues in a consolidated manner that is efficient for the utilities, parties, and the CPUC, the commission said in a news release.

The nuclear station has been offline since January due to unusual tube wear at recently-installed steam generators. SCE recently announced plans to seek Nuclear Regulatory Commission approval to restart Unit 2. A longer outage is expected for Unit 3.

NRC has said the review won’t be rushed and it will probably take months before it completes its review. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has also pressed NRC to ensure that a comprehensive review is done to ensure reactor safety before either reactor unit returns to service.

CPUC would consider what, if any, rate adjustments should be made for utility customers. It will also look at the reasonableness of the actions and expenditures of SCE and SDG&E with respect to the steam generator replacements a few years ago.

The plant owners’ handling of replacement power and other cost-related issues would also be considered as part of the investigation.

“SCE is in the process of reviewing the proposed investigation order, but intends to comply with our obligation to cooperate if an investigation is commenced,” a utility spokesperson said in a statement.

SCE has provided regular updates to CPUC commissioners and staff since Unit 3 was safely taken offline Jan. 31 to investigate a water leak in one of that unit’s steam generators, SCE said. Unit 2 was taken out of service Jan. 9 for a planned outage and remains safely offline due to issues that were also identified in its steam generators, the utility added.

About Wayne Barber 4201 Articles
Wayne Barber, Chief Analyst for the GenerationHub, has been covering power generation, energy and natural resources issues at national publications for more than 20 years. Prior to joining PennWell he was editor of Generation Markets Week at SNL Financial for nine years. He has also worked as a business journalist at both McGraw-Hill and Financial Times Energy. Wayne also worked as a newspaper reporter for several years. During his career has visited nuclear reactors and coal mines as well as coal and natural gas power plants. Wayne can be reached at wayneb@pennwell.com.