Business & Economy

Deal divides billions in closed San Onofre nuclear plant's costs

This file photo taken June 7, 2013, shows the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, operated by Southern California Edison. The plant was shut down in 2012 after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes inside virtually new steam generators.
This file photo taken June 7, 2013, shows the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, operated by Southern California Edison. The plant was shut down in 2012 after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes inside virtually new steam generators.
Mae Ryan/KPCC

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Consumers will get refunds and credits of about $1.4 billion, but also pay about $3.3 billion, under a settlement approved Thursday on costs stemming from the premature closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant.

The vote by the California Public Utilities Commission was 5-0.

At issue has been who should take the financial hit for the early demise of the plant located between Los Angeles and San Diego — company shareholders or customers.

The settlement stems from negotiations among operator Southern California Edison, minority owner San Diego Gas & Electric Co. and consumer advocates. Critics argued that the deal shortchanged ratepayers.

Consumers will pay about $3.3 billion in costs over 10 years, including for power purchased after the plant shut down.

Southern California Edison said in a statement submitted to federal regulators that customers should expect to see a rate reduction in January, reflecting the settlement. The company expects rates to increase later next year to cover the costs of buying power, but the size of the increase will be buffered by the settlement.

As a result of that buffering, an official with one of the parties involved in the settlement said that ratepayers would not see changes in their bills.

“There is actually a refund. That refund will go through. It just won’t be identified on the bill. It’ll be used to reduce other costs in accounts that the utilities have not recovered from ratepayers,” Mark Pocta, a program manager with the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, told KPCC.

Pocta said that current rates being charged to customers also already include the $3.3 billion they'll shoulder as a result of the settlement. He said that the fees for that will continue into 2022 and that much of it has already been collected. 

“At least half of it’s already been recovered, and those are already embedded in rates, so again, you’re going to see any rate change. You shouldn’t see any rate change resulting directly as a result of this case,” Pocta told KPCC. 

The settlement "is reasonable in light of the whole record, consistent with law and in the public interest," Commissioner Mike Florio said in a statement.

San Onofre shut down for good last year after a long fight over whether it was safe to restart. It had been idle since January 2012, after a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of tubes inside virtually new steam generators.

A federal investigation after the 2012 leak concluded that a botched computer analysis resulted in generator design flaws that were largely to blame for the unprecedented wear in the tubing that carried radioactive water.

This story has been updated.