TURN cannot imagine a scenario that would justify Edison passing San Onofre costs on to customers
California’s utility regulator may investigate how much the outage at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station is going to cost electricity customers.
On Aug. 2, the Public Utilities Commission is set to vote on a special order that would have the agency examine how much it would cost to repair San Onofre’s four steam generators. It also would look at who would pay for those repairs.
A draft copy of the proposal also calls for a look at the “economic consequences” that would occur if one or both of the plant’s reactors do not come back on-line at any time, within six months or within one year after the investigation begins.
The commission controls the purse strings for all California utilities. Commissioners have the power to say no to any cost-recovery motion that plant operator Southern California Edison might make.
Edison took the facility’s Unit 3 reactor offline Jan. 31 after detecting a leak in a thin metal tube inside one of the reactor’s two steam generators.
The plant’s other reactor, Unit 2, was already offline for refueling and maintenance when Unit 3 exited the electrical grid.
Edison, under scrutiny from federal regulators, has kept the units shut down ever since as it looks for ways to solve problems with vibrations inside the generators thought to be causing many of the thousands of thin tubes to prematurely wear.
A 95-page report released by the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission on Thursday states that the generators were not properly designed to resist internal vibrations and that changes will have to be made.
The utilities commission already granted Edison the right to raise local electricity rates in order to pay the nearly $700 million cost of purchasing and installing the new generators.
Local ratepayers have already shelled out for the upgrade. Electricity rates increased in order to pay for the project, but specific amounts were not available Monday.
But more cash—a lot more—will probably be needed in order to fix the new equipment.
The draft investigation order does not take a stand one way or the other on whether the public should have to share in the cost of those repairs, saying only that the commission would be open to determining the “effect on the provision of electric service at just and reasonable rates.”
Terrie Prosper, a commission spokeswoman, said in an email that the regulator’s board of directors initiated the investigatory process “in order to ensure ratepayers are protected.”
Mindy Spatt, a spokeswoman for The Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group based in Sacramento, said she was encouraged to see the commission being proactive in trying to determine the cost of repairs and replacement power.
Her group will advocate against passing more cost on to consumers, she said.
“It’s hard to imagine a scenario that would justify Edison putting these costs onto consumers,” Spatt said. “It does seem that mistakes were made, but they’re not mistakes that the ratepayers were responsible for.”
Rochelle Becker, president of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, a California-based watchdog, also could not see the commission voting to fund repairs with higher electricity rates.
“I believe that if the PUC decides that it’s a shareholder responsibility to repair or replace the steam generators, then Edison will not restart San Onofre. I believe it all comes down to who pays,” Becker said.
Jennifer Manfre, senior manager of media relations for Edison, said the utility will respond to the commission if its board adopts the investigation resolution.
“We remain focused on preparing our response to the NRC’s (action letter), which includes determining repairs needed for operations, with safety being the primary objective. It would not be appropriate to speculate about repair costs or their impact at this time,” Manfre said in an email.