Putting uncertainty to rest for a variety of different stakeholders in California, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced today that the utility will permanently retire the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). In addition to SCE’s press release, Governor Jerry Brown, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, and California Energy Commission Chairman Robert Weisenmiller have issued statements this morning about the closure.
SONGS has been out of service since January 2012, when a leak from a steam generator tube was detected. Further testing showed abnormal amounts of wear on thousands of other tubes, taking both SONGS units offline until a solution could be implemented. Last October, SCE requested permission from the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) to temporarily restart one of the units at a reduced power level. However, long-term plans to restart were complicated last month, when the NRC Atomic Safety and Licensing Board ruled, in response to a petition from environmental groups, that SCE’s broader return-to-service action plan would constitute a de facto license amendment, subject to NRC hearings.
Uncertainty about when, and if, SONGS would come back online created difficult questions for the California Public Utilities Commission, the California Independent System Operator, the state’s utilities, and independent power producers. Stakeholders are concerned with not only how to meet the state’s peak summer loads, but also how to handle electricity demand long-term, in the face of potential retirement of a number of California’s coastal power plants, which are under a state mandate to retool once-through seawater cooling systems by 2020 or significantly cut operations. SCE’s announcement does not answer these critical questions about California’s electricity supply, particularly peak summer loads and meeting demand in the transmission-constrained L.A. load pocket. But, at least now the regulatory agencies can move beyond debating what SONGS’ closure and potential restart might mean for California electricity supply and procurement, to taking action to handle the permanent closure of approximately 2,200 megawatts of generation.