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Edison San Onofre unit probably won’t start for peak season

California’s power grid operator isn’t expecting to receive any power from either reactor at Edison International’s San Onofre nuclear plant as it prepares for peak cooling demand this year.

“All signs point to the unlikelihood” of San Onofre Unit 2 being back in service for the California summer, Steve Berberich, president and chief executive officer of the California Independent System Operator, said today during a board meeting in Folsom. Cal ISO is also “fully anticipating” that San Onofre Unit 3 will remain shut.

The state’s power grid will “remain fragile” as long as the reactors are out of service, Berberich said. Last month, federal regulators pushed back until the end of May a decision on Edison’s request to return Unit 2 to service.

Two gas-fired units at a power plant in Huntington Beach, California, were restarted last year to help make up for the loss of San Onofre. The state is studying other ways to increase generation and move electricity more reliably as it prepares for the heat of July and August.

“You can’t continue to go forward assuming everything is going to be OK” with the San Onofre plant’s return, Berberich said. “And you can’t assume it’s going to get relicensed. Those are the overhangings that we have.”

On-peak wholesale power at the SP15 hub in Southern California for July through September rose 35 cents, or 0.6 percent, to $55.50 a megawatt-hour today, Tullett Prebon data show.

Tube damage

Units 2 and 3 have been shut since January 2012 after the company discovered steam generator tube damage. In October, Edison submitted a plan to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to restart Unit 2 at 70 percent of capacity to avoid shaking damaged pipes.

Each reactor at the plant south of Los Angeles can produce 1,100 megawatts. The total capacity is enough to power 1.4 million homes, Edison’s website shows.

The ISO is considering a new transmission line in the San Diego area, greater voltage support at substations and new power generation to help counter the potential loss of San Onofre next summer and in 2015. Berberich described some of the plans as “no-regrets kind of projects” that the ISO will probably pursue no matter what happens at San Onofre.

NRC request

Jennifer Manfre, a spokeswoman at Southern California Edison headquarters in Rosemead, California, didn’t immediately return a telephone call and e-mail requesting comment on the ISO’s board meeting.

U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, a Democrat from California, and U.S. Representative Ed Markey, a Democrat from Massachusetts, have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to investigate information uncovered in documents that allegedly indicate Edison and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the maker of the steam generators, knew of flaws with the generator design before installing them at San Onofre in 2010 and 2011.

Edison said in a statement today that it was inaccurate to suggest that the utility and Mitsubishi were aware of “serious problems” with replacement steam generators.

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