San Onofre cost three times as much shut down as replacement power

Southern California Edison’s plan to restart one of the two shuttered nuclear reactors at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station could be as much as three times as costly as keeping the plant inactive and purchasing power from elsewhere, according to an independent report commissioned by environmental watchdog group Friends of the Earth released yesterday (March 21).

The group argues that Edison should have to justify the additional cost to the California Public Utilities Commission before being allowed to pass up to an extra $150 million on to local ratepayers. Failing to do so, they say, should result in the charges being denied and would ultimately lead Edison to shelve its restart plans.

San Francisco consultant M.Cubed reports that ratepayers were billed $640 million for operation costs at San Onofre last year, though the plant was fully functional for less than a month, while an additional $175 million was paid to purchase replacement power during the outage. Under Edison’s plans to run a single reactor under partial power for five months, the firm scales the cost of operation to $214 million, versus $66 million to source power elsewhere.

“Under either scenario -- based on the costs of a full year, or of five months, of plant operation -- ratepayers would save more than three times as much money by relying on replacement power than if San Onofre were to be restarted,” said M.Cubed principal Steven Moss in a declaration filed with the Commission.

Meanwhile, conflicting reports have surfaced concerning whether enough power will be available to meet the region’s demand in the hotter summer months if San Onofre remains offline. Last summer there were no issues and the region actually had a power surplus even when calls for conservation were issued. This year, however, two retired natural gas plants in Huntington Beach will not be able to be reactivated in order to meet demand due to expired pollution credits, though the station is being converted to synchronous condensers to regulate power supplies across the regional grid.

A report from the Reuters news service on Wednesday signaled that the California Independent Systems Operator is bracing for a more challenging season of heat waves, saying that so-called “flex alerts” calling for emergency conservation would be more common, though significant additions to the region’s renewable energy portfolio would ease some of the burden.

KPBS reported the same story in a different light yesterday, taking away the conclusion from the Independent Systems Operator that “there will be enough electricity to keep the lights on and stave off blackouts” throughout the summer, though the possibility of calls for voluntary conservation also merits mention.

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