Edison and SDG&E request delay in talks over San Onofre nuclear plant's closure

Two utilities want California regulators to delay talks about reopening a case involving the San Onofre nuclear plant until disputes are resolved with the manufacturer of the faulty equipment that led the facility to close.

The nuclear plant was permanently closed in 2013, and a settlement with Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric left consumers on the hook for $3.3 billion in shutdown costs. But consumer advocates want a full investigation into what went wrong at the plant and how the settlement was reached.

Meanwhile, the two utilities expect a decision in early 2017 about arbitration claims filed against Tokyo-based Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, which made the troubled steam generators that led to the plant’s permanent closure. A decision could mean billions of dollars in benefits to ratepayers.

The utilities are suing the Tokyo-based manufacturer for $7.6 billion over the steam generators.

Half of any money the utilities collect from Mitsubishi will go to the benefit of their customers. Complying with consumer advocates now — reopening the investigation and settlement before negotiations with Mitsubishi are complete — could harm the potential benefits to consumers, Edison said.

Edison and SDG&E, which jointly own the closed nuclear operation, issued notices to consumer advocates Friday, informing them that the utilities would seek a delay in reopening the San Onofre investigation.

On Dec. 13, an administrative law judge ordered Edison and SDG&E to begin discussions with consumer advocates about reopening the case by the end of January and to complete the process by April 28.

“Southern California Edison believes it just makes sense to know the outcome of the [Mitsubishi] arbitration because half the proceeds would go to customers,” Ron Nichols, Edison’s president, said in a statement. “We believe the meet and confer process directed by the Dec. 13 ruling would likely be more productive for all involved if the outcome is known before the initial session.”

Consumer advocates — led by San Diego lawyer Michael Aguirre, a former city and assistant U.S. attorney — had asked the commission to reopen investigations into the shutdown of the nuclear plant.

Aguirre said that any agreement the utilities reach with Mitsubishi can be taken into consideration, but that there’s no reason to delay the case any further.

“Up till now, the biggest problem is that there hasn’t been a proper investigation for the responsibility Edison has in regard to the steam generators,” Aguirre said. “What we really need is to stop charging the ratepayers and start putting their interest first. The time for delay is over.”

The request followed revelations that officials at Edison engaged in wrongful talks with an official at the commission before the multibillion-dollar settlement.

In particular, Michael Peevey, who was then commission president, and Stephen Pickett, who was Edison's vice president for external relations, met during an energy industry junket in Warsaw, Poland.

In December 2015, regulators fined Edison $16.7 million for failing to report the talks.

ivan.penn@latimes.com

For more energy news, follow Ivan Penn on Twitter: @ivanlpenn


UPDATES:

Dec. 26, 4:15 p.m.: This article was updated to clarify that Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric expect a decision in early 2017 about arbitration claims filed against Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. Southern California Edison said the utilities are not in talks with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries. 

This article was originally published on Dec. 23 at 3 p.m.

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