Customers have paid more than $1 billion for idle San Onofre plant
The California Public Utilities Commission held an initial meeting Tuesday in an investigative process that could eventually result in ratepayers getting a refund for a portion of the bills they have paid during the San Onofre nuclear plant's year-long outage.
The plant has been out of service since last January, when a steam generator tube leaked a small amount of radioactive steam, leading to the discovery of unusual wear on many more tubes in the newly replaced steam generators.
The investigation will look at the costs incurred in the outage and at the potential cost to ratepayers from repairs as well as scenarios in which one or both of the plant's reactors never come back online.
Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric customers are paying more than $1.1 billion a year in costs related to the troubled plant, according to the commission.
The commission voted to launch its investigation in October. Tuesday's meeting was focused on the timeline of the investigation.
Even that is a contentious issue. Plant operator Southern California Edison argued in filings with the commission that any decision on refunding rates to customers should be consolidated with the company's next general rate case, which will not be heard until mid-2014.
Ratepayer advocates argued that rates should be refunded much sooner. John Geesman, an attorney with the Alliance for Nuclear Responsibility, said he thought the commission should be able to reach a decision on that aspect of the investigation within the first three months of 2013.
No decision on the timing issue was made at Tuesday's meeting, but PUC spokesman Andrew Kotch said the investigation will probably be broken into four stages, with the first phase focusing on expenses incurred at the plant in 2012. That phase will probably take about six months.
As part of the process, the commission will hold a public hearing in Costa Mesa on Feb. 21, where members of the public will be able to weigh in on costs of the outage and potential refunds.
-- Abby Sewell
Photo: Surfers work the waves at Lower Trestles near San Clemente while the darkened San Onofre nuclear plant rises up in the background. Credit: Mark Boster