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California Public Utilities Commission Rules To Reconsider San Onofre Settlement

Photo caption:

Photo credit: Associated Press

Surfers walk along a beach nearby the San Onofre nuclear power plant, July 19, 2012.

California Public Utilities Commission Rules To Reconsider San Onofre Settlement

GUEST:

John Geesman, lawyer, Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility

The 2014 agreement apportioned financial responsibilities for the shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station in northern San Diego County.

California regulators said Monday they will re-examine a settlement that made consumers responsible for covering some $3.3 billion in costs for closing the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The Public Utilities Commission said parties involved in the case can submit briefs commenting on whether the deal reached in 2014 should be amended or is "still reasonable," legal and in the public interest.

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California Public Utilities Commission Rules To Reconsider San Onofre Settlement

California Public Utilities Commission Rules To...

The joint ruling calls for interested parties to submit comments on the multibillion-dollar settlement.

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The decision by a commissioner and a PUC administrative law judge also bars the parties from having private communications with PUC "decision-makers" and advisers to commissioners.

That follows revelations that an executive of Southern California Edison, the primary owner of the nuclear plant, held private discussions with then-PUC President Michael Peevey before the PUC adopted the agreement. Edison was fined $16.7 million by the PUC last year for failing to report the back-channel talks.

In a statement Monday, Edison said:

"Southern California Edison is reviewing today’s California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) action seeking further comment from parties on the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station Settlement Agreement. SCE continues to believe that the SONGS settlement remains in the public interest."

The San Onofre twin-reactor plant, located between Los Angeles and San Diego, was shut down in 2012 after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of extensive damage to hundreds of tubes inside the virtually new generators.

The plant never produced electricity again. Edison closed San Onofre for good in 2013 amid a fight with environmentalists over whether the plant was too damaged to restart safely.

In 2014, the PUC approved a settlement between Edison and The Utility Reform Network, a consumer group better known as TURN, that had ratepayers paying $3.3 billion in costs stemming from the plant decommissioning, with shareholders of Edison and minority owner San Diego Gas & Electric covering $1.4 billion.

In a statement Tuesday, the San Diego Gas & Electric said:

“SDG&E continues to strongly support the SONGS settlement as a good deal for our customers. We believe this latest phase will provide certainty for customers and closure for this proceeding. We will provide additional information for the record to describe the various benefits customers have received as a result of implementing the settlement.”

TURN staff attorney Matthew Freedman said the improper communications cast a pall over the settlement deal.

San Francisco-based TURN "looks forward to the opportunity to fight for better results for consumers," Freedman told The San Diego Union-Tribune.

"This proves that when a small group of people come together to fight to the end, justice can be done," Michael Aguirre, an attorney who sued to overturn the agreement, told the paper.

"This will have to be done openly and on the record," he said. "We can win a fair fight."

KPBS staff contributed to this report.

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