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Agency Calls For Rate Cut Over San Onofre Outage

Evening Edition

Above: Charles Langley, a public advocate with UCAN, talks to KPBS about demands for rate cuts to compensate for San Onofre being offline.

An advocacy group is calling for a reduction in what San Diego Gas & Electric and Southern California Edison customers are being charged because they have continued to pay to support the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station even though it has been shuttered since January.

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Southern California Edison Responds to Division of Ratepayer Advocates Letter

Southern California Edison Responds to Division of Ratepayer Advocates Letter

Southern California Edison's response to the Division of ...

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A couple stands near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at San Onofre State Beach on March 15, 2012 south of San Clemente, California.
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Above: A couple stands near the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at San Onofre State Beach on March 15, 2012 south of San Clemente, California.

In a letter, Joseph P. Como, acting director of the Public Utilities Commission's Division of Ratepayer Advocates, asked the panel to cut the bills immediately "instead of waiting several more months and allowing hundreds of millions of dollars in needless costs to be borne by the ratepayers.''

“There’s no reason to wait that long,” Como said.

About $650 million a year is spent on operations and maintenance at the plant, according to the newspaper.

In November, when the plant will have been out of service for nine months, state law will trigger an investigation in which the commission must consider lowering rates. The investigation could eventually result in refunding money to customers so they would not pay the costs of a plant that is producing no power.

But Charles Langley, a public advocate with the consumer advocacy group UCAN, told KPBS customers should not have to wait that long.

Langley said the Division of Ratepayer Advocates interprets the law to say customers' rates should be cut now.

"That's very exciting to us, we agree with that interpretation," he said. "Ratepayers should not be on the hook for a malfunctioning electrical facility. It's one thing if it's down for a month, but we shouldn't be compelled to pay for something that's not producing electricity."

In a statement sent to KPBS, Southern California Edison said "there are existing regulatory processes that are designed to protect ratepayers and ensure that power generators address outages safely and efficiently."

Stephanie Donovan, a spokeswoman for SDG&E, said in a statement that "the DRA appears to be jumping the gun."

"The question about cost recovery for the replacement power for San Onofre will be addressed in the Energy Resource Recovery Account proceeding in the middle of next year," she said. "The commission has also acknowledged publicly that it will open an investigation in November to deal with the issues surrounding the current outage at San Onofre."

But Langley said that was a "classic bureaucratic response to a real problem."

"Really what they're complaining about is that the DRA isn't dragging its feet," he said.

San Onofre's two active reactors were both shut down in January. One was shut down for planned repairs while the other was shut down abruptly when on Jan. 31, a faulty piece of equipment leaked a small amount of radioactive steam into the environment. The incident led to the discovery that many more tubes were wearing out more quickly than expected.

There are no official scheduled restart dates for the plant, which is situated near the San Diego-Orange County line. Last month, Edison reported one reactor unit would remain out of service until at least November and the other until at least December. Edison has since retracted the statement, saying it could be even longer.

Claire Trageser and Alison St John contributed to this report.

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