Five-plus years after the San Onofre nuclear plant leaked radiation and closed for good, state utility regulators have laid out a schedule for ending their review of what went wrong.
The California Public Utilities Commission this week published a revised schedule for the stalled San Onofre proceeding that calls for a status conference as soon as next month and four days of hearings early next year.
“This matter is long overdue for resolution and therefore an expedited schedule will be implemented,” President Michael Picker and administrative law judge Darcie Houck wrote.
The 15-page filing invites plant owners Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric and other interested parties to file testimony in response to the proposed schedule.
It also welcomes new testimony to help regulators determine how best to close the case.
“We continue to ask parties to build coordination and cooperation,” the ruling states. “To the fullest extent possible, we urge parties to jointly plan their analysis with the goal to avoid repetition … and unified cross-examination.”
The commission’s so-called Order Instituting Investigation was opened in late 2012, nine months after the radiation leak.
The commission proceeding is separate from a criminal investigation launched by the state Attorney General’s Office, which is reviewing backchannel communications between utility regulators and executives. No charges have been filed in the criminal case, and officials have stopped confirming that it’s active.
The investigation was supposed to determine what specifically caused newly installed replacement steam generators to fail — and who should pay for the failure.
But Edison negotiated a private settlement with the commission’s Office of Ratepayer Advocates and the Utility Reform Network, or TURN, a San Francisco consumer group.
Commissioners approved the agreement in late 2014 with slight modifications, including $25 million for climate-change research.
The settlement, which assigned 70 percent of the nearly $5 billion in closure costs to utility customers rather than utility shareholders, halted the commission investigation into what caused the failure.
Edison President Ron Nichols said in a statement this week that the company stands by the commission-approved settlement. He said it has returned more than $2 billion to customers so far.
“Southern California Edison will actively participate in the process ordered today,” he said in a statement.
The settlement is being challenged in federal court. San Diego attorney Maria Severson and her law partner Michael Aguirre are suing the commission for approving a deal they say is unfair to consumers. They cite an undisclosed meeting in Poland with regulators and a utility executive that set an early framework for the accord.
She said revisiting the settlement agreement offers a chance to correct what has proved to be an improper decision.
“This is good news for the public, but any commissioner who knew of the illegal meeting in Warsaw, Poland, when they voted in November 2014 for the settlement should disclose that knowledge and recuse themselves from the proceedings,” Severson said.
The commission’s latest ruling calls for new testimony from the various parties to be filed as soon as January.
Evidentiary hearings will begin in Los Angeles the following month and public hearings will be held in L.A. and San Diego in March.
A final commission decision would be made sometime thereafter.
Matthew Freedman, staff attorney for TURN, welcomed the news.
“It’s a hopeful sign that the CPUC has agreed to consider a number of specific and potentially significant modifications to the settlement,” he said. “We intend to work closely with all other consumer parties in this process to force utility shareholders to absorb these costs and produce the maximum possible reduction in costs for customers of both SCE and SDG&E.”