Politics, government and public life for Southern California

How should California make up for power loss from San Onofre?

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A State Senate committee pondered Wednesday how to make up for the power loss from the permanent closure of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS).  

Replacing the energy the plant produced isn’t as simple as flipping a switch. Not when California is gunning to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and increase the use of renewable fuels. 

The San Onofre plant provided 2,200 megawatts of electricity to South Orange County and San Diego. The creation of that power — from a regulatory perspective —emitted no greenhouse gases.

Speaking before the state Energy, Utilities, and Communications Committee, executives from the two utility companies that relied on San Onofre said they have been able to purchase other types of energy — including natural gas — from other companies to make up the difference.  

“The resource mix of course has changed significantly since SONGS shut down” said David Mead, vice president of transmission and distribution planning for Southern California Edison.

Mead showed state senators a chart of how diversifying the utility company’s power portfolio drove up its greenhouse gas emissions.   

“The numbers are approximate, but it shows that GHG has increased since the shut-down of SONGS,” he said.

Sam Avery, San Diego Gas and Electric’s senior vice president of power supply, said his company’s emissions also grew as a result.

Both said they hope to mitigate the effect in whatever long-term plan they adopt to replace San Onofre’s wattage.

Now that the plant's closure is permanent, state officials and utility companies are in the process of devising that plan on increasingly tricky political and regulatory terrain.

California’s goals to reduce statewide greenhouse gas emissions, while increasing the use of renewable fuels, pose a challenge. So does the state’s new regulations to restrict the use of “once-through cooling” systems that draw sea water through power plants to cool down generators, then pump it back into the sea. 

Senator Alex Padilla (D-Pacoima), who chairs the Senate Utilities Committee, said he believes California energy regulators can strike the right balance.

“I don’t think keeping the lights on and reducing emissions are contradictory,” Padilla said. “I don’t think keeping the lights on and increasing the amount of renewables is mutually exclusive.  Does it complicate how we do it?  Absolutely.”

State energy regulators scheduled a workshop at UCLA July 15 to solicit public comment on how to make up for the loss of San Onfore.




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