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California plans probe of San Onofre nuclear plant

The California Public Utilities Commission will decide next week on the launch of the investigation, which would cover the cause of the plant's shutdown and rates being charged customers.

October 17, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times
  • Some Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers have complained that it's unfair for them to be paying to operate a plant that is not functioning.
Some Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers… (Gregory Bull / Associated…)

The California Public Utilities Commission is poised to open an investigation into the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant, a process that could result in ratepayers getting reduced utility bills in the future.

Some Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric ratepayers have complained that it's unfair for them to be paying to operate a plant that is not functioning.

Commissioners will vote next Thursday on a proposal to open an investigation into the unexpected outage at the plant, which by then will have stretched on for nearly nine months.

If approved, the investigation would provide a single means by which the commission could consider the various complex issues of costs and energy planning related to the plant's plight, including the "causes of the outages, the utilities' responses, the future of [San Onofre] and the resulting effects on the provision of safe and reliable electric service at just and reasonable rates," according to the proposal released Tuesday.

As well as examining the costs of the outage to date, the probe would look at the cost effectiveness of different options for repairing or replacing the defective equipment that led to the shutdown.

San Onofre once provided as much as 20% of the power to large swaths of Southern California. It was shut down because of unexpected wear on steam generator tubes, which resulted in a leak and the release of a small amount of radioactive steam. The steam generators had been replaced less than two years before in a project that cost plant owners Edison and SDG&E a combined $771 million.

Ratepayers have been paying for the costs of replacing the steam generators and have continued paying for the plant's capital and operating costs despite the fact that it is producing no power. According to the commission proposal, Edison and SDG&E are collecting $1.1 billion a year from ratepayers for costs relating to the plant.

Edison has said it hopes to recover a large portion of the outage costs from insurance and from steam generator manufacturer Mitsubishi Heavy Industries.

But the utility could also ask the commission for permission to recover some of the costs from ratepayers.

The investigation had been anticipated for months. State law requires the commission to open an investigation if a plant remains out of service for nine months, to determine if a rate rollback is warranted.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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