PUC Puts off Investigation of San Onofre Finances

Friday, August 03, 2012

Decisions are piling up for the state on what to do about the troubled San Onofre Nuclear power plant, which has been shut down since January.

While it wrestles with a determination on the true extent of the problem that led to the release of radioactive steam from damaged tubes in one of its nuclear generators, weighs the possibility of extensive repairs and listens to arguments that the plant should be shuttered for good, the state Public Utilities Commission (PUC) must also decide who pays for it all.

The commission was scheduled to begin an investigation on Thursday into what plant owners Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric figure the anticipated costs for various scenarios might be, but put that off until November 1 when state law requires action be taken.

The delay came despite pleas for action now from consumer and environmental groups. The state Division of Ratepayer Advocates sent the PUC a letter, endorsed by the Utility Reform Network, the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, Friends of the Earth and the Center for Energy Efficiency and Renewable Technologies, urging it not wait.

Earlier in the week, Edison, which owns 78% of San Onofre, said it had spent $48 million on repairs and inspections and another $117 million on replacing the energy lost by the shutdown. Those and future expenses could be passed along to ratepayers at a future date, or the state could decide that rates should drop and rebates be made to customers who are not receiving the benefits of services they’ve already paid for.   

“At this point, of course all options are on the table,” Edison International Chief Financial Officer William J. Scilacci told Wall Street analysts at a presentation this week on his company’s second-quarter financial performance.

Edison already made an expensive investment in San Onofre in 2010 and 2011 when it replaced the plants two reactor units and thousands of steam generator tubes that function as a cooling system. It’s those tubes that have been decaying at an alarming rate, the result, it is claimed, of a computer error that predicted how much vibration and friction they would be subjected to.

–Ken Broder   


To Learn More:

San Onofre Investigation Is Postponed (by Abby Sewell, Los Angeles Times)

Edison May Have to Give Refunds over San Onofre Shutdown (by Sharon Bernstein, NBC News)

Regulators Pushed on San Onofre Nuke Probe (by Michael R. Blood, Associated Press)

San Onofre Hints at November Restart, then Denies It (by Ken Broder, AllGov)

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