Much if not all of the electric power once provided by the San Onofre nuclear power plant could be replaced with energy from non-fossil-fuel sources, says a proposed decision pending at the California Public Utilities Commission.
The procurement plan written by an administrative law judge is expected to be debated and possibly voted upon next month by the five-member commission.
Two principal partners in the shuttered plant, Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric Co., would be required to procure at least 600 megawatts of power from so-called preferred resources, which include wind and solar power, energy efficiency programs, electricity storage systems and locally generation from roof-top panels.
However, the proposed decision also leaves the door open for utilities to purchase power from natural-gas-fired power plants if needed to provide reliability to the grid when renewables aren't enough.
Edison permanently closed San Onofre in June 2013 after concluding that it would be economically unfeasible to fix defective steam generators that had leaked small amounts of radioactivity.
Both environmentalists and conventional power generating companies praised the PUC judge's proposed decision.
"It's a step in the right direction," said Evan Gillespie of the Sierra Club. He challenged the commission to come up with a final plan that ensures that San Onofre is replaced with "100% clean power. The plant's retirement should not "be used as a foot in the door for building more fossil fuel power plants," he said.
A spokesman for the owners of many natural-gas plants, Jan Smutny-Jones, called the PUC plan "on balance pretty good" because the commission recognizes that there is going to be a need for conventional generation.
"There's no problem with encouraging energy efficiency...," he said, "but it is completely untrue that you can keep the lights on and keep electricity affordable without natural gas."