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San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by Andrea Swayne
San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo by Andrea Swayne

By Jim Shilander

Southern California electricity ratepayers could soon see a portion of a $94 million recommended refund from the owners and operators of the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant.

Last week, state Public Utilities Commission administrative law judges delivered suggested decisions, ordering the major owners of San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric, to refund $74.2 million and $19.3 million to their customers’ 2012 bills, respectively.

The preliminary decisions are part of a broader CPUC investigation into outages at the plant, which has not produced electric power since January 2012. In June, Edison permanently closed the plants two nuclear reactors after defects were discovered in both units’ steam generators. A restart effort for Unit 2 was delayed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s process, leading Edison to decide to retire the plant and begin the decommissioning process.

The decisions criticize Edison for being “single-minded about its restart plan” for the plant, noting “SCE’s decision to apply resources to a restart plan was the result of an unsound decision-making process, primarily because SCE did not consider cost effectiveness or alternatives.”

While the judgments would allow the utilities to keep a majority of rates collected last year, for operations and management of the plant, Judge Karen Clopton found Edison should have realized by May 2012 that SONGS would be inoperable again that year.

“The decision establishes May 7, 2012 as the date by which SCE knew, or should have known, that the new type of tube wear linked to the tube leak in Unit 3 was also present, to a lesser degree, in Unit 2,” Clopton wrote. “Despite unduly optimistic reports to SCE’s Board of Directors, SCE was aware that no submission to the NRC could occur for months, and SCE’s internal actions signaled an understanding that repair options were far from developed.”

Several anti-nuclear groups asked that all SONGS operational funds be refunded to ratepayers. However, the court found the utility had legitimate cause to use funds for safety and security issues, the planned refueling of one of the reactors and for normal operation and maintenance of the plant.

The five-member commission could approve the judges’ recommendation next month, with customers seeing refunds on their bills starting in January 2014. The next phase of the investigation will look into the cost of replacement power purchased by the two utilities after the plant’s shuttering.

The entire ruling can be viewed here.

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