By Jim Shilander
While not deciding the fate of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the California Public Utility Commission’s investigation into the impact of the SONGS shutdown on ratepayers may impact more people in a personal way.
CPUC Commissioner Mike Florio and Administrative Law Judge Melanie Darling heard testimony from elected officials and members of the public on the investigation in Costa Mesa on Thursday on how the loss of the power plant will affect the pocketbooks of ratepayers throughout Southern California.
Florio said the CPUC’s process, which is separate from the investigation of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission into SONGS, will include an additional public hearing in San Diego this spring, as well as a number of evidentiary hearings at the CPUC offices in San Francisco.
The NRC investigation is concerned with whether or not SONGS will be allowed to restart. The NRC indicated at its most recent public hearing that a potential decision on restart could be made in late April or early May at the earliest.
Florio explained the CPUC investigation consists of four phases and the different phases could be conducted at the same time. One focuses on the costs incurred by Edison in the time since the shutdown of Unit 3. The second will focus on whether the nuclear plant needs to be removed from the SCE rate base. Another will be on the process involved in the replacement of the steam generators and a final one will focus on what would happen to the grid if San Onofre were to be taken off of it. No decision is likely for several months, he indicated.
Florio indicated that the CPUC was also be looking at contingency plans for providing power during the summer if SONGS were not restarted. Unlike last summer, a restarted power plant in Huntington Beach would be unable to provide power, though it might be able to be run in a different mode to keep a voltage baseline, which SONGS has supplied in the past.
“That’s a distinction between San Onofre and Diablo Canyon,” Florio explained. “Diablo Canyon sits at the end of a line, essentially, so there’s not a voltage issue. Because San Onofre sits between two large cities, it plays a critical role in keeping the voltage up.”
Speakers from Los Angeles, San Diego and Orange counties all spoke at the event. A number of representatives from various chambers of commerce and elected officials cited the need for baseline power provided by SONGS, many citing the negative effects of the brownouts and blackouts of 2003 on businesses and the already high costs of power.
Tom Lindsey, the Mayor of Yorba Linda, was echoed by many on the side encouraging a quick restart of SONGS.
“Edison has served my family’s needs well for decades,” Lindsey said. “It’s now up to you folks to be sure rates are fair and equitable.
Another Yorba Linda City Council member, Gene Hernandez, went further.
“Southern California Edison must be able to provide enough base power,” Hernandez said. “I am confident Edison will do due diligence to get warranty money from Mitsubishi.”
Other elected officials and anti-nuclear activists, however, voiced concerns about the safety of the plant, as well as the CPUC’s 2005 ruling on the viability of running SONGS with just one unit.
“If I were a parent with children in that area (around SONGS), I’d think long and hard about remaining,” Laguna Beach City Council member Toni Iseman said.
San Clemente resident Patti Davis said she often spoke with other San Clemente mothers who expressed concerns about what they might be able to do in case of disaster.
“We all know,” Davis said. “They’ll tell you ‘It’s over.’”
Hugh Moore of the Green Party of San Diego noted that in 2005, the CPUC ruled the benefits of running SONGS outweighed the costs of doing so, but said the commission had noted the benefits only outweighed the cost by a small amount. That calculation assumed both reactors were capable of running at full power, rather than one reactor running at 70 percent.
“You have no choice but to close this plant,” Moore told Florio and Darling.