The decision to decommission the San Onofre nuclear power plant doesn't end its saga, which instead promises to drag on for decades. There are long-term uncertainties about where to find replacement power for Southern California Edison customers and how long to allow the plant to take up beach space in Camp Pendleton before demolishing it. Before that, though, the state's Public Utilities Commission will have to decide who should pay for the fiasco that led to San Onofre's early retirement.
The answer is as clear as the imposing double domes of shuttered Units 2 and 3: The bulk of the financial responsibility belongs to Edison, starting with most of the $670 million that the plant's new steam generators cost to buy and install. Design flaws in the generators led to unprecedented wear on their tubes, causing the plant's initial shutdown in early 2012. Before they were purchased, though, Edison won PUC approval to have its customers pay a small monthly fee for the new equipment, which was supposed to see the plant at least to the expiration of its current licenses in 2022.
But ratepayers aren't supposed to foot the bill for power they're not getting. Once the plant had been dark for nine months, its closure triggered a PUC investigation that concluded the generator cost should not be included in ratepayers' bills, according to commission President Michael R. Peevey.