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Settlement Means Customer Bill Cut For Closed Nuclear Plant

The shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shown on May 9, 2017.

Photo by KPBS

Above: The shuttered San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shown on May 9, 2017.

Settlement Means Customer Bill Cut For Closed Nuclear Plant

GUEST:

Alison St John, North County reporter, KPBS News

The Southern California utilities that oversaw a nuclear plant that was shut down has reached a $775 million settlement with attorneys representing consumers who felt they were footing too much of the bill for the closure.

The Southern California utilities that oversaw a nuclear plant that was shut down has reached a $775 million settlement with attorneys representing consumers who felt they were footing too much of the bill for the closure.

The settlement announced Tuesday night by the San Onofre nuclear plant's majority owner Southern California Edison and minority owner San Diego Gas & Electric means a savings of about $68 per residential customer in the next four years.

RELATED: Marine Corps Waits For Nuke Waste Removal From San Onofre

The twin-domed seaside plant between Los Angeles and San Diego was closed in 2012 after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of extensive damage to hundreds of tubes inside virtually new steam generators.

That shutdown was supposed to be temporary, but San Onofre was shuttered for good in 2013 after a fight with environmentalists over whether it was safe to restart.

KPBS Special Coverage: Trouble At San Onofre

The settlement revises an agreement approved in 2014 by state regulators on the closure of San Onofre that said customers would pay $3.3 billion of the $4.7 billion in estimated costs from the closure.

"We are pleased to be able to bring closure to this issue," Edison President Ron Nichols said in a statement. "The parties undertook extensive efforts over many months to reach agreement and SCE looks forward to timely regulatory approval."

RELATED: California PUC Used Public Money To Block San Onofre Investigation

San Diego law firm Aguirre & Severson filed a lawsuit on behalf of the utility's customers after that agreement, saying it stuck them with too much of the bill.

"This is great news for ratepayers," said Maria Severson, an attorney representing the consumers. "It was the courage of the federal-court plaintiffs and their willingness to go to court that made this happen."

The settlement, if approved by the CPUC, puts an end to an investigation into how the original settlement was reached. The San Diego Union-Tribune revealed that then-President of the California Public Utilities Commission, Michael Peevey, and Edison executive Stephen Pickett, had met secretly in Warsaw, Poland to agree on the terms.

The settlement means ratepayers still pay more than half of the cost of the shut down, but that Edison and SDG&E agree to stop billing consumers from now on. Attorney Mike Aguirre said he fought for five years and ultimately decided this was the best deal he could get for consumers.

“Not paying any more money is not the same thing as getting back all the money you paid,” Aguirre said. “There’s no mincing words on that. But we had to make a judgement call.”

Many consumer groups worked on the legal battle to reach the new settlement. San Francisco attorney John Geesman of the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility also worked on the case. He said he has been working to hold Southern California Edison accountable for six years since the plant shut down.

Geesman said the actual amount that ratepayers will not have to pay is $873 million. He said that is the amount Edison would have had to collect in order to fulfill a requirement from the CPUC, amounting to $775 million.

“I think it is a scarlet numeral of $873 million that will be permanently stenciled on the foreheads of certain Edison executives and their enablers at the Public Utilities Commission for ever more,” Geesman said.

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