Restarting San Onofre Isn't Cost Effective, New Study Suggests

Thursday, March 21, 2013
By Alison St John
Photo by David McNew / Getty Images
Above: The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station at San Onofre State Beach on March 15, 2012 south of San Clemente, California.

San Onofre may be offline for another summer, and a new analysis suggests this will be cheaper than restarting the plant.

California’s Public Utilities Commission is investigating how much Southern California Edison, the operator of San Onofre, is charging ratepayers for the plant, and whether those costs are reasonable. But the PUC will not decide until next year if ratepayers should be reimbursed.

Friends of the Earth, which is among many parties signed up to be a part of the investigation, wants the PUC to consider right away whether it is cost effective to restart the plant this summer at 70 percent power. This is what Edison has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve. The NRC could make a decision by May or June.

Steve Moss is with M.Cubed, the consulting firm that did a cost analysis for Friends of the Earth. He said the analysis uses figures cited by Edison.

"Their data would seem to imply that running the plant is far more expensive than just simply purchasing power from other sources," he said.

The figures used by M.Cubed are the reported cost of operating the plant in 2012 when the plant was offline, and the reported cost of purchasing replacement power. When prorated for five months - the length of time Edison proposes to restart the plant - the replacement power is calculated to be $150 million less.

Damon Moglen of Friends of the Earth said the analysis is a first stab at the question of whether restarting the plant at 70 percent power would be cost effective for ratepayers, but more analysis is warranted.

Southern California Edison's Jennifer Manfre responded in a statement.

"Friends of the Earth's sole purpose is to shut down San Onofre permanently because of their anti-nuclear ideology," the statement said. "The analysis is misleading and devoid of any rational understanding of the costs and assets needed to provide reliable energy to Southern California that meets California's clean energy goals this summer and into the future."

"The San Onofre nuclear plant is the largest source of baseload generation and voltage support in the region," the statement continued, "and is a critical asset in meeting California’s summer electricity and clean energy needs.”

The agency responsible for keeping the lights on in California, the Independent System Operator, or ISO, said this week that Southern California will make it through the coming summer without San Onofre, though consumers will have to conserve energy at peak times.