State Braces For Another Year Without San Onofre Nuclear Plant

San Onofre nuclear power plant | Photo: Timothy Tolle/Flickr/Creative Commons License

The California Independent System Operator (CaISO) announced today that it's preparing contingencies for the state's power grid in case the San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant is still offline next summer. The 2.2-gigawatt nuclear reactor on the San Diego County coast has been offline since January, when maintenance workers found that wear in steam generator tubes had released what operator Southern California Edison called a small amount of radioactive steam into the containment structure. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has barred the plant from reopening until engineers determine the cause of the premature wear in the tubes, which were installed over the last two years.

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The loss of more than two gigawatts of generating capacity has strained Southern California's grid, and contributed to a "Flex-Alert," in which utility customers were encouraged to curb their power consumption during peak hours, called during a heat wave in August.

CaISO's response to the San Onofre outage also included switching two gas-fired generating plants back on in Huntington Beach. The two plants, Huntington Beach Units 3 and 4, had been closed down by their owner Edison Mission Energy to allow the company to build a new generator in City of Industry.

Today's announcement by the CaISO suggests that Huntington Beach Units 3 and 4 might best be converted from gas-fired generating plants to "synchronous condensers," large-scale voltage regulators similar to electric motor flywheels that the CaISO hopes will help minimize power fluctuations in the grid.

Another thing that CaISO says may help the state weather the loss of one of its most controversial nukes: adding capacitor banks to Southern California Edison's regional infrastructure to smooth out irregularities in the power supply. It may be that having San Onofre down for a while will help smooth the transition to a more robust regional grid.

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