By Eileen O'Grady
HOUSTON Feb 7 California electric grid
officials said Thursday they are planning for a second summer
without output from either of the damaged San Onofre nuclear
The grid agency is also beginning to talk about what power
infrastructure improvements will be needed in Southern
California should the nuclear units never restart or are retired
when the operating licenses expire.
The 2,150-megawatt San Onofre nuclear station, owned by
Edison International and Sempra Energy, has been
shut since January 2012 after the discovery of premature tube
wear that damaged thousands of tightly packed tubes inside the
large steam generators that were installed in 2010 and 2011.
Loss of the nuclear plant, located halfway between Los
Angeles and San Diego, forced the California Independent System
Operator (ISO) to recall two aging power plants and accelerate
transmission projects last summer to avert rolling blackouts.
The head ISO told the board that he does not expect either
San Onofre unit to produce electricity this summer.
"The situation without San Onofre will remain fragile, but we
should be able to get through that," said Steve Berberich, ISO
president. "We will absolutely have to rely on conservation and
demand-side management as we did last summer."
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission is evaluating a plan
proposed by Southern California Edison (SCE) to restart San
Onofre 2 and run the unit at 70 percent of capacity for five
months before shutting it to inspect for additional wear on the
The NRC last week delayed until late April or May its
decision on whether San Onofre 2 can restart.
A NRC spokesman said the timeline was delayed from March to
allow for additional inspection work and is still subject to
Damage to San Onofre 3 is more severe and the utility has
not yet proposed a plan to bring it back into service.
"San Onofre is the largest source of baseload generation and
voltage support in the region and is a critical asset in meeting
California's clean energy needs," SCE spokeswoman Maureen Brown
said in an email.
The nuclear plant plays an important role in helping to meet
California's strict air quality standards, she added.
Neil Millar, the ISO executive director of infrastructure
development, said a plan to covert two power units owned by AES
Corp into synchronous condensers by June 1 to bolster
the Southern California grid is "still viable" despite an
ongoing dispute at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission
The ISO proposal calls for the Huntington Beach natural
gas-fired units 3 and 4 to be converted to equipment that can
produce megavars that help "push" megawatts through the grid,
much like water pressure helps push water through a hose.
The conversion, however, is the subject of a FERC dispute
between the ISO and the trading unit of JPMorgan Chase & Co
which has a marketing contract with AES.
AES declined to comment on the status conversion project or
when the work would need to begin to meet the ISO's deadline.
In FERC filings, the ISO warned that work at the Huntington
Beach site needed to begin in early 2013 to be ready by summer.
Other work by SCE to install other equipment and to
reconfigure transmission lines in the area should be finished
ahead of the summer, Millar said.
The ISO also wants to make the best use of existing
demand-side management programs that allow utilities to curb
power use in times of high demand this summer.
Such programs "were very successful last year and we want to
make sure those programs are tuned up as well," Millar said.
Millar said the ISO is working to finalize proposals for
additional grid improvements or new generation that might be
needed for future summers or in the event the San Onofre units
do not restart or are not relicensed.
SCE operates the San Onofre station and holds a 78-percent
ownership stake. Sempra Energy's San Diego Gas &
Electric owns 20 percent and the City of Riverside has a small