On June 7, 2013, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced that it would be closing the controversial San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). Located on the California coast line near San Clemente, California, in the vicinity of 7.1 million Californians, the plant has been the subject of a major public safety debate since January of 2012.
Unit one of SONGS commenced operation in 1968, with units two and three respectively following in 1983 and 1984. Unit one was decommissioned in 1992, while units two and three were repowered in 2010. In January of 2012, the plant was taken offline when a small radiation leak resulting from a broken steam generator water tube in unit 3 called the safety of the plant into question. The ensuing analysis of plant performance revealed that faulty design of the 2010 repowering led to excessive steam turbine generator wear.
Since January of 2012 shut down and repair costs soared to over half a billion dollars, regulators were slow to approve a plan for recommencement of service and public concern over the safety of the plant persisted, leading to SCE’s announcement that SONGS would be permanently closed.
Questions over San Onofre now shift to plant decommissioning and SCE’s ability to serve its customer base. The Nuclear Regulatory Agency will oversee the dismantling of units two and three and the safe disposal of spent nuclear fuel. SCE has indicated that it expects to serve customers reliably through the high demand summer months, though major resource or demand shocks could result in power shortages.
The closure of SONGS will create a number of challenges and opportunities for energy generators in California. Initially, one of the challenges is that the loss of the SONGS power in the transmission system creates some uncertainty as to the nature and type of upgrades that may be required for certain projects in order to effectively move their power over the state’s transmission system. Because the system is “balanced” in consideration of all generation, the loss of SONGS can cause either positive or a negative effect on the ability of other projects to transmit power, depending upon their location and other factors. Many projects in development will need to re-review their transmission arrangements and any anticipated curtailment amounts in light of the SONGS closure. In the area of opportunities, before it was shut down, SONGS was producing enough power for about 1.4 million homes. California has been replacing that power through a number of sources, including buying power from out of state. With the permanent shut down of SONGS, new projects (wind, solar and natural gas) to replace the lost SONGS energy will need to be built.