Utility companies are ordered to consider changes to San Onofre nuclear shutdown deal

Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co. must meet with groups critical of an agreement that calls for utility ratepayers to shoulder about 70% of the costs of shutting down the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, the California Public Utilities Commission said.

The directive, issued late Tuesday, orders the two utilities to “carefully consider” any modifications to the 2014 agreement that would allow greater relief for ratepayers.

“The CPUC must ensure the integrity of its processes and that its decisions serve the public interest,” Commissioner Catherine J.K. Sandoval said in a statement.

The ruling orders Southern California Edison and SDG&E to meet with representatives of the Office for Ratepayers Advocates and the Utility Reform Network, who have urged modifications to the $4.7-billion settlement.

The directive also calls on the two utilities to consider an assessment of the agreement by the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, a San Luis Obispo-based activist group opposed to nuclear power. 

Southern California Edison is the majority owner of the plant and oversees its operations. SDG&E, a subsidiary of Sempra Energy, owns 20%.

“We have just received notification of the ruling and have not yet had a chance to review it to provide further comment,” SDG&E communications director Christy Ihrig said in an email Tuesday. Efforts to get a comment from Southern California Edison on Tuesday were unsuccessful. 

The state commission signed off on a settlement in 2014, but revelations emerged later that there had been a secret meeting between an Edison executive and the commission’s then-president, Michael Peevey before the settlement was reached. Normally, “ex parte” or back-channel meetings are supposed to be disclosed to other interested parties within three days to protect the openness and fairness of commission deliberations.

In May of this year, Sandoval and an administrative law judge decided to give the agreement another look. 

Tuesday’s announcement takes the review process a step further.

The ruling sets out a timetable for meetings between the utilities and the groups wanting changes in the settlement. A deadline of April 28, 2017, has been set to reach some sort of agreement.

If an agreement is not reached by then, the commission will look at summaries from each party and then decide how to proceed.

The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station has not produced electricity since January 2012 after a steam generator tube leaked. The facility — located near Oceanside in San Diego County — is well into the third year of a 20-year decommissioning process.

Nikolewski writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.

rob.nikolewski@sduniontribune.com

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