San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

In this Friday, April 27, 2012, file photo, people utilize the beach outside the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in San Onofre, Calif. Southern California utility officials are warning that blackouts in the region are possible this summer as a result of the sidelined San Onofre nuclear power plant. The damaged plant is likely to remain sidelined until at least the end of August while investigators probe excessive wear in tubing that carries radioactive water, the plant’s operator said Thursday, June 7, 2012. (AP Photo/Lenny Ignelzi, File)

By Kevin Smith, San Gabriel Valley Tribune
Posted: 09/26/13, 6:19 PM PDT | Updated: 5 hrs ago

The closure of Southern California Edison’s San Onofre nuclear power plant has saddled the utility with a dilemma — how will it backfill the lost power and who will pay the costs associated with the plant’s problems and its decommissioning?

The California Public Utilities Commission, which regulates the state’s privately owned public utilities, has issued two proposals for consideration that would deny reimbursement to SCE and co-owner San Diego Gas & Electric for power-purchase costs incurred due to the non-operation of San Onofre.

“I want to assure customers that they will not pay twice for the costs associated with the outage of San Onofre while the CPUC investigation comes to its conclusion,” agency Commissioner Mike Florio said in a statement. “This is a question of fundamental fairness to customers.”

SCE announced in June that it was permanently closing the troubled facility. But the plant’s two massive reactors had already been shuttered since January 2012 when one of the steam generators sprang a leak and released traces of radiation.

SCE customers continued to pay for the operation of San Onofre during that period, however. The CPUC has an investigation underway that will evaluate whether to remove all costs related to San Onofre from the rates of SCE and San Diego Gas & Electric customers going forward, and whether to refund San Onofre-related costs already collected in rates dating back to Jan. 1, 2012.

“We have a proceeding underway to determine all of that,” CPUC spokesman Andrew Kotch said. “The proceeding will try to determine what kind of impact (ratepayers) might see since the plant was closed and was not providing service.”

The state agency will hold a public hearing on that issue on Tuesday in San Diego.

Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group that represents the small customers of California’s utilities, said ratepayers shouldn’t be saddled with any of the costs.

“It is our position that Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric should pay for their own mistakes and not pass them on to consumers,” she said.

The San Onofre plant is jointly owned by SCE (78.21 percent), San Diego Gas & Electric (20 percent) and the city of Riverside (1.79 percent).

As for the decommissioning, SCE spokeswoman Maureen Brown said all nuclear plants are required to set aside a trust fund that can be used to help pay those costs at the end of a facility’s life.

“The estimated cost to decommission San Onofre is $4.1 billion, and SCE’s share of that is $3 billion,” she said. “We’ve already collected $2.7 billion and the other co-owners have collected $927 million.”

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