Edison, California regulators in talks over costs at closed San Onofre nuclear plant

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Talks are planned to resolve a costly question at the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant in Southern California — who has to pay a bill that could top $3 billion, officials disclosed Friday.

Edison International, the parent company of plant operator Southern California Edison, said in a filing with the SEC that a meeting would be held March 27 in San Francisco to discuss details of a possible deal.

SCE and minority owner San Diego Gas & Electric Co. have been negotiating with consumer advocates over how to divide a long list of costs from repairs and inspections at the now-closed reactors to replacement power once the plant shut down.

At issue has been who should take the hit: company shareholders or ratepayers.

"Our goal is to secure the maximum amount of refunds for customers as soon as possible, and to ensure that utility shareholders bear a significant share of responsibility for the premature shutdown of San Onofre," said Matthew Freedman, lead attorney for the Utility Reform Network, a consumer advocacy group involved in the talks.

"It's been far too long that customers have been paying for mistakes made at that plant," Freedman said.

The twin-domed plant on the northern San Diego County coast was closed permanently by Edison in June 2013 after a long and costly fight over whether it was safe to restart. The plant hadn't produced electricity since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of extensive damage to tubes that carried radioactive water.

The problems at San Onofre centered on steam generators that were installed during a $670 million overhaul in 2009 and 2010. After the plant was shut down, tests found some generator tubes were so badly eroded that they could fail and possibly release radiation, a stunning finding inside the nearly new equipment.

The California Public Utilities Commission has been overseeing a broad investigation into costs at the plant. SCE and the other parties involved in the talks asked an agency judge not to rule on key issues, pending the outcome of the negotiations.

SCE declined to comment. 

"The purpose of the conference is to discuss terms to resolve the CPUC’s proceedings regarding the outages and subsequent permanent shutdown of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station," said a brief news release on the Edison International website. "Edison International anticipates having no further comment with respect to the subject matter of the [SEC filing] Form 8-K prior to the conclusion of such settlement conference."

Morningstar analyst Travis Miller said it was critical for Edison to resolve the case, though he emphasized a deal had not been completed.

"No investor likes uncertainty, especially when it's a large number," Miller said.

Southern California Edison has created a community engagement panel as part of the decades-long decommissioning process for the closed nuclear plant. Panel member Gene Stone, with Residents Organized for a Safe Environment, said the first public meeting of the new panel about the decommissioning of the plant is  Tuesday, March 25 from 6 to 9 p.m.

The company has also scheduled a public auction next week to sell surplus machinery and equipment at the San Onofre nuclear plant.

SCE has retained MRI Auctions Inc., an industrial machinery auctioneer in Simi Valley, to handle the auction from March 26-28 via live webcast or in person at San Onofre, just south of San Clemente.

Correction: An earlier version of this story included a typo in a quote of Edison International.

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