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The Official KPBS Spring Ratepayers Utilities Roster

By Pat Finn, KPBS News

California’s blistering heat wave and power plant equipment failures are stra...

California’s blistering heat wave and power plant equipment failures are straining the state power grid. Energy officials are calling on consumers to conserve.

An Energy Use Explainer

The Official KPBS Spring Ratepayers Utilities Roster

It’s spring. That means summer is just around the corner along with higher temperatures and warnings to moderate our electricity use or face the occasional brown- or blackout. Oh yes, and hearings. And court filings.

Keeping track of the many closed and open hearings, legal actions, reports and rulings swirling around utilities and energy in San Diego, to say nothing of the many companies and operators (corporate and human) involved in them, takes a lot of, well, energy.

Fortunately for you, we’re on the case. Below is a list of what’s going on right now, who’s making it go on and what it means to you.

Glossary of Terms, Players, Events, Acronyms:

What it Means and What's Happening Now

CPUC: The California Public Utilities Commission regulates private electric and natural gas utilities, which own the energy providers we all draw from, including San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) and all the other plants scattered around California. It approves new power plants.

What’s happening now: The PUC is investigating whether the charges Southern California Edison, the operator and owner of SONGS, wants to assess rate-payers for the installation of generators which have kept it off-line and the costs of alternative power, are reasonable.

This week the PUC fought off an injunction (filed by former San Diego City Attorney Mike Aguirre) to prevent it from holding a closed hearing on unknown topics this Wednesday. At the public meeting on Thursday, March 21, the CPUC decided not to allow the construction of new peaker plants.

SONGS: SCE’s San Onofre Nuclear Generation Station has been out of commission since the detection of a small radiation leak in its steam generators in January, 2012.

NRC: The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission regulates commercial nuclear power plants and other uses of nuclear materials, such as in nuclear medicine, through licensing, inspection and enforcement of its requirements.

What’s happening now: The Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) may decide as early as May which, if any, of San Onofre’s reactors can be safely restarted. And the PUC is deciding whether and how much Southern California Edison can continue to charge its rate-payers for this long-running fiasco.

Peaker Plants: These energy plants, which must be approved by both the CPUC and CEC, can be started quickly during peak use times. Their rationale is to provide support to SDG&E as it incorporates renewable sources like wind and solar.

What’s happening now: Quail Brush, the proposed natural gas peaker plant west of Santee, needs approval from both agencies and is generating opposition from environmentalists and neighborhood groups. Pio Pico, the peaker plant proposed for the border region, has already been approved by the CEC.

CEC: The California Energy Commission is the state’s “primary energy policy and planning agency,” responsible for licensing power plants; forecasting; promoting conservation, efficiency and research; and planning for emergencies.

What’s happening now: CEC has approved the Quail Brush peaker plant and is mulling over the Pio Pico plant.

The I.S.O.: The California Independent System Operator is responsible for keeping the lights on and our ACs humming. It determines how much electricity will be needed, whether it is available and from where.

What’s happening now: This week Cal ISO issued a summer outlook for power which said, to no one’s surprise, that it can provide San Diego and Orange Counties with enough electricity this summer, even without SONGS (but probably not without the energy use warnings).

SCE: Still referred to in this area as Southern California Edison, Edison International provides energy to central and Southern California, for starters. It owns 80% of SONGS and a huge wind operation in Tehachapi. It owns energy generation plants around the world, including the Philippines, Italy, Thailand and Turkey. It established its own finance arm, Edison Capital, which finances and manages aircraft, ships, anything to do with transport.

What’s happening now: SCE is covering the cost of the idle SONGS plant by off-loading it to rate-payers. This amounts to about $1 billion for 2012.

SDG&E: San Diego Gas and Electric, a regulated public utility, owns 20% of SONGS and serves 3.4 million people in San Diego and southern Orange Counties. Downed SDG&E lines were blamed for the destructive wildfires of 2007. The company asked The CPUC if it could bill its customers for fire damage not covered by its insurance.

What’s happening now: The CPUC said sure, why not?

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