ENERGY: Planners bracing for no San Onofre in 2013
North County Times (2012-07-21) Eric Wolff
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Although state and utility officials hope San Onofre will be producing some power as soon as this fall, they're scrambling to avoid a dark 2013 and 2014.
The nuclear plant north of Oceanside has been offline since January
due to design flaws with both of its new generators. Officials from the plant's majority owner, Southern California Edison, hope to apply to nuclear regulators in September to restart one of the units at reduced capacity. But California's regulatory apparatus, along with Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., have turned their attention to making sure the region can keep the lights on without San Onofre.
"In talking to the NRC (Nuclear Regulatory Commission) and Edison, it was pretty clear that as we implement this summer's plan, it was time to start working on a plan for 2013 and 2014," said Robert Weisenmiller
, chairman of the California Energy Commission. "That plan will be based on having neither unit of San Onofre available. That's a worst-case assumption."
San Onofre's generators have been offline since January due to problems with the Mitsubishi-designed generators that had been installed in 2010. The plant pumps 2,200 megawatts into the local grid, including 20 percent of San Diego County's power in 2011.
Weisenmiller is liaison between the NRC and Gov. Jerry Brown and has been deeply involved in the problems at San Onofre. He said Edison plans to apply to the NRC in September to restart one of the two generators at 70 percent capacity for six months as a trial.
"These dates are for planning purposes only and are subject to change," said Jennifer Manfre, an Edison spokeswoman. Edison "is currently focused on preparing our response to the NRC's Confirmatory Action Letter using conservative decision-making, wherein safety, and not timelines, is the priority."
The uncertainty surrounding San Onofre has the energy commission, the California Independent System Operator and the California Public Utilities Commission preparing for doing without the nuclear plant.
"With the potential long-term outage of (the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station), we are actively engaged in contingency planning for summer 2013 and beyond and expect to have recommendations for summer 2013 later this summer," Stephen Berberich
, CEO of the California Independent System Operator, told his board two weeks ago.
This summer, state regulators replaced the missing power from the nuclear plant by ramping up generation at the 965-megawatt Encina Power Station in Carlsbad
, and by taking Units 3 and 4 at AES Huntington Beach out of retirement
to add an additional 440 megawatts. The two plants, along with the completion of a high-energy transmission line between San Diego and Imperial counties and new conservation measures
, have so far kept the lights on in San Diego and Riverside counties.
But it can't last forever: Those Huntington Beach units possess valuable pollution rights that will, by contract, be transferred to a new power plant in the City of Industry.
"We're required to shut down and permanently retire them at the end of October," said Eric Pendergraft
, president of AES Southland, the plant's operator.
Without that power, and without San Onofre, regulators and utilities have to find some way to keep electricity flowing.
Erin Koch, a spokesman for SDG&E, outlined three main areas of research: Increased conservation from the public, transmission upgrades to allow for more imports and more efficiency, and the possibility of bringing more generators onto the system.
Last year, SDG&E agreed to deals with companies that want to build three new plants in San Diego County, and it has been adding solar and wind generation to the grid. Weisenmiller said the new plant in Industry and NRG Energy's plans to build a new power plant
in Carlsbad could help replace missing megawatts.
Weisenmiller also said the commission was prepared to force the state to ramp up the energy efficiency of its own buildings to reduce long-term load.
Regulators must also find a way to replace the "voltage support" provided by San Onofre. In order for the physics of importing power to work, there needs to be some electricity added to the system between Southern Orange County and Northern San Diego County. Weisenmiller and Pendergraft said they may install special equipment at Huntington Beach to solve that problem, and AES has applied to repower Units 1 and 2 at that location.
"We will certainly have, as part of our program, energy-efficiency measures and a whole range of technologies in those areas," Weisenmiller said. "We are very focused on Orange County and San Diego."
Call staff writer Eric Wolff at 760-303-1927, follow him on Twitter @ ericwolff
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