San Onofre nuclear plant

The San Onofre nuclear plant has been shut for more than a year and it is unclear whether the facility will operate again. (Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times / August 22, 2012)

An initial round of hearings was set to begin Monday in a California Public Utilities Commission investigation of the costs to ratepayers from the San Onofre nuclear plant's ongoing outage.

Activists were incensed that a CPUC administrative law judge ruled against allowing videotaping of the hearings, which are set to take place in San Francisco, far from the plant's location in northern San Diego County.

[Updated May 14 at 1:34 p.m. PST: The judge later agreed to post a webcast of the hearing., available on the CPUC web site].

State law requires the public utilities commission to launch an investigation and consider lowering or refunding rates when a plant has been out of service for nine months. San Onofre's outage due to faulty equipment has now dragged on for more than a year.

Southern California Edison has requested permission from federal regulators to restart one unit at partial power, but it remains unclear when or if the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission will give permission for a restart.

The public utilities commission investigation promises to be a lengthy process.

The first phase, which will be the subject of this week's hearings, focuses on the plant's operating costs in 2012. But it does not include the cost of purchasing replacement power -- which has risen to more than $400 million -- or the original $671 million cost of the steam generators, which ratepayers are currently repaying. Those costs will be the focus of later stages in the investigation. And even in the first phase, no decision will be issued until July.

The group Women's Energy Matters had requested permission to videotape and webcast the hearings, but judges Melanie Darling and Kevin Dudney denied permission, saying that the hearings are open to the public and transcripts will be available.

"These provisions provide appropriate transparency and public access to the hearings," they wrote.

Women's Energy Matters and other groups planned to protest the decision, saying that videotaping has been allowed at other hearings in the past, and that many people who live in the vicinity of the plant are unable to travel to San Francisco to attend.

[For the Record, 11:01 a.m. PST: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said that San Onofre is in southern Orange County. It is in northern San Diego County near the Orange county border].

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