PUC Staff Says Utilities Should Pay Onofre Bill

Times Staff Writer

A Public Utilities Commission staff report concludes that shareholders of Southern California Edison Co. and San Diego Gas & Electric--rather than their customers--should pay for repairing the San Onofre nuclear power plant's Unit 1.

The PUC staff said that Edison has only itself to blame for setbacks in the two utilities' legal effort to make Westinghouse Electric Corp. pay for manufacturing defects of three steam generators at San Onofre.

Edison and SDG&E;, which own the oceanfront nuclear power plant, have launched a major effort to convince the commission that the staff report is misguided, premature and unfair.

So far, the utilities have won a delay until next month when the commission is to decide whether the firms must refund $56 million to their customers.

If the staff's recommendation is accepted, it would reduce average monthly electric bills by less than 1% for the next three years, officials estimated.

The money represents about three-fourths of the repair costs for the steam generators, which developed leaks and caused a 14-month shutdown of Unit 1 during 1980 and 1981.

The 41-page staff report said the utilities might have successfully recovered the repair cost in their federal court suit against Westinghouse had Edison officials earlier not made a series of "incredible statements" to the commission that "virtually doomed any chance of later claiming that Westinghouse was negligent."

Utility officials say the lawsuit is still alive in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles, despite a summary judgment in July dismissing several causes of action. They said, too, that Edison officials who were criticized in the staff report for making supposedly imprudent statements were merely being candid with the commission, which insisted on the legal action in the first place.

Edison officials, trying to persuade the commission to approve rate hikes in 1981 and 1982, made a series of statements that Westinghouse later used in its court defense.

- An Edison engineer told the commission that Westinghouse's design was "up to date" and that "better alternative systems did not exist."

- Edison President Howard Allen told the commission that "no responsible manufacturing company" could be expected to honor a warranty for replacement energy costs during a shutdown.

- And a company brief submitted to the commission said Westinghouse could not have foreseen the generator problems and that Edison had "no chance of prevailing in any suit. . . ."

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