California regulators have approved a plan for two utilities to develop replacement power to help fill the void left by the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.
The nuclear plant in northern San Diego County, just south of San Clemente, had generated enough electricity for 1.4 million homes.
The unanimous vote Thursday by the California Public Utilities Commission opens the way for Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric to find ways to plug that gap.
The plan allows the two utilities combined to procure up to 1,500 megawatts of additional energy, much of which will likely come from natural gas-fired generation. At least 40 percent, or 600 megawatts, must come from "preferred sources" including energy storage, conservation and renewable sources like wind and solar energy.
Commission President Michael Peevey said he would have preferred to find a way to replace the power without natural gas-fired generation, but it wasn't possible to rely solely on preferred sources.
"We applaud the commission for moving in the right direction and, especially for its significant reliance on the contribution of "preferred resources"- resources that are critical to the health and well-being of Californians," blogged Sierra Martinez, Natural Resources Defense Council legal director who covers California energy issues.
Martinez called the decision a "groundbreaking step" toward avoiding "a significant number of fossil-fueled power plants."
Other environmentalists were more critical of Thursday's vote.
While the decision "does require that a portion of the energy come from renewable sources, the utilities will ultimately get to choose where the bulk of the energy comes from, which could include natural gas," said the statement from the Sierra Club of California, the California Environmental Justice Alliance and Earthjustice.
Mark Nelson, director of integrated planning and strategy for Southern California Edison, says it's too early to know what mix of sources will be used for his utility's replacement energy.
"Southern California Edison has a solicitation out right now and so they'll be a number of different resources that come in through there so it's too early to say what the winning bids will be and what types of plants and what types of other resources they'll be."
Power from the northern San Diego County nuclear plant stopped in January 2012 after a radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual wear to hundreds of tubes carrying radioactive water. Southern California Edison decided to close the plant last year. The facility is now in the early stages of decommissioning.
Southern California Edison has created a Community Engagement Panel as part of the decommissioning process for the nuclear plant. The first meeting of the panel is scheduled for March 25 at the San Clemente Community Center.