State utility regulators hold off on San Onofre funding request

The San Onofre nuclear power plant has been idle since January 2012.
(Lenny Ignelzi / Associated Press)

State utility regulators have delayed responding to Southern California Edison’s request for more than $400 million in decommissioning funds to pay for tearing down the shuttered San Onofre nuclear plant north of Oceanside.

Edison asked the California Public Utilities Commission to approve spending $461 million from a special fund administered by the state by Jan. 3. All nuclear power plant operators must maintain trust funds to ensure that money will be available for decommissioning.

Edison cited delays in its fuel-transfer program — the delicate operation of moving of nuclear waste from wet to dry storage — and approval of a permit from the state Coastal Commission for the updated cost estimates.


Regulators decided to examine the transaction in more detail before approving the spending.

In a one-page notice sent to Edison on Dec. 24, regulators told the utility they would not grant immediate approval. They said they needed up to 120 days to consider the request to withdraw money from the multibillion-dollar decommissioning fund.

The decision came on the same day the San Diego consumer group Public Watchdogs formally protested Edison’s application.

Charles Langley, the group’s executive director, told the utilities commission that the Edison request was too much money to approve without an evidentiary hearing. He said Edison mischaracterized several key points in its nine-page application, known as an advice letter.

“The advice letter seeks permission to spend nearly half a billion dollars of ratepayer money,” Langley protested to state regulators. “This is a virtually unprecedented level of increased spending to be permitted based on a mere nine-page letter of questionable claims.”

The decommissioning fund is a multibillion-dollar pot of money paid into by utility customers and augmented by investments over several decades. Edison and minority owner San Diego Gas & Electric suspended the customer fees several years ago after determining they had enough money to dismantle the plant.


Robert Laffoon-Villegas, a spokesman for Edison, released a statement saying, “Southern California Edison will submit its response to the CPUC on Dec. 31. We look forward to providing additional information to the commission on this matter. The protest by Public Watchdogs is without merit. SCE’s advice letter is consistent with the approved process for obtaining the CPUC’s approval of trust fund disbursements to pay for decommissioning costs.”

Edison decided to shutter the plant in 2012 after a small amount of radiation leaked in one of two replacement steam generators. The faulty replacement generators were installed in 2010 and 2011. In 2013, Edison permanently closed the nuclear plant after four decades of operation.

McDonald writes for the San Diego Union-Tribune.