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Energy officials plan for another summer without San Onofre

The organization that runs California's energy grid is planning ahead in case the San Onofre nuclear plant remains out of commission in the summer of 2013.

September 14, 2012|By Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times

The organization responsible for overseeing California's power grid is already developing plans to meet next summer's electricity needs in Southern California if the San Onofre nuclear plant remains offline.

The plant's outage has now stretched for more than seven months, forcing energy officials to replace its 2,200 megawatts of power — enough to power about 1.4 million homes — in the heat of the summer.

Staffers from the California Independent System Operator on Thursday presented a set of recommendations to their board of governors in case the outage extends another year.

The plant was shuttered because of unexpected wear on tubes carrying radioactive water in its four recently replaced steam generators.

Plant operator Southern California Edison plans to submit a restart plan for one of the two reactor units by early October, but the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission would need to review and sign off on the plan, a process that may take months, NRC Chairwoman Allison Macfarlane told a Senate committee this week. The plant's second reactor, where the tube damage was worse, will remain out of commission indefinitely.

Officials scrambled to put a contingency plan in place to get Southern California through the summer without San Onofre. A key part of that plan — firing up two retired generating units at a natural gas plant in Huntington Beach — will not be available next summer because those units' air emission credits will transfer to another plant after October. But ISO officials hope that they can put the units to use in another way.

In addition to generating power, San Onofre also provides "voltage support," facilitating the movement of power through the grid, and allowing for importation of more power into the region.

Under the ISO's plan, the Huntington Beach units would be converted into synchronous condensers, which, instead of generating power, help to push power through the grid.

abby.sewell@latimes.com

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