SoCal Edison Ready for Summer Without Nuclear Power

Southern California Edison (SCE) representatives say the Southern California utility should be able to meet demand for power even without the San Onofre nuclear power plant, as long as Fortune throws a few breaks its way -- and with the help of its customers.

"SCE and the California Independent System Operator (CaISO) are planning to get through summer without the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station," SCE's PR Director Charley Wilson told reporters at a briefing Friday at the utility's offices in Rosemead. "If we get transmission upgrades done in time, and no other disasters strike, we should be able to meet demand this summer without rolling blackouts.

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SCE's forecast for summer is more or less in line with that of the CaISO, which we've reported on previously.

San Onofre's two reactors, which provided 2,350 megawatts of power to SCE, San Diego Gas & Electric, and the city of Riverside, have been offline since January 2012 when a radioactive steam leak was found in Unit 3. Though SCE has asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to approve a summer restart of Unit 2 at partial power, the utility is planning for the summer on the assumption that that approval won't be forthcoming.

Complicating the problem is the loss of the gas-fired AES Huntington Beach power plants, which helped make up for the loss of power from San Onofre in the summer of 2012. Those plants aren't totally useless in helping California's power users get through the summer: they'll be used as synchronous condensers to regulate voltage on the grid in the South Coast area.

Those condensers are very important for the half-million electricity users in Orange County, according to Wilson. Without the stability they provide to the grid, sudden drops in voltage could black out Orange County without warning.

As for providing the power to keep that voltage up, Wilson said that new gas-fired plants coming online in the SCE service area will take up the slack left by the shuttered San Onofre plant. Three plants in El Segundo, Desert Hot Springs, and the City of Industry will provide up to 1,700 megawatts of power to the grid this summer.

That's still 650 megawatts short of what San Onofre would have provided if both units were still running, and other factors might eat into the grid's safety margin. "We're already into fire season a few months early," Wilson pointed out. "One wildfire under a transmission line might make all our planning beside the point."

If power shortages do happen, the utility will be relying on its customers for help in conserving power. Which is a good idea anyway. "The cheapest, cleanest kilowatt-hour of power is the one that you never use," said SCE's media rep Vanessa McGrady.

About the Author

Chris Clarke is a natural history writer and environmental journalist currently at work on a book about the Joshua tree. He lives in Joshua Tree.
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