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O.C. plant generators brought out of retirement to avert power shortage

May 11, 2012 |  5:02 pm

California's energy grid operator announced Friday that two mothballed generators at a natural gas-powered plant on the Huntington Beach coastline have been put back in service, a critical piece of the plan to replace power from the shuttered San Onofre nuclear power plant over the summer.

San Onofre has been out of service for three months because of equipment issues, and it's unclear when it will return to operation.

Officials have expressed concern that in the event of a heat wave or transmission outage, the Los Angeles Basin, south Orange County and San Diego County could face power shortages over the summer without the plant's 2,200 megawatts of energy.

The nuclear plant produces enough electricity for about 1.4 million homes, but on top of that, officials said it provides voltage support that allows for power to be imported from elsewhere to serve Southern California.

The two units at the AES Huntington Beach plant -- which are being brought temporarily out of retirement -- will provide about 440 megawatts to the Los Angeles Basin while giving voltage support to allow power to be imported into the San Diego area, California Independent System Operator spokeswoman Stephanie McCorkle said.

"This is a critical component of the plan for summer should the San Onofre units continue to be offline, or even if there is a partial return to service," she said.

The contingency plans also include speeding up transmission upgrades. Customers will be called on to conserve power as well.

The Huntington Beach units may operate through October, when they will have to be shut back down so the new Walnut Creek plant in the city of Industry can take over their emission credits.

Earlier this month, Southern California Edison officials expressed hopes that San Onofre could be back online and running at a reduced capacity in June.

But the chairman of the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission said talk of restarting the plant was "premature" since Edison has not yet submitted a plan to the NRC, and Edison followed with a statement in which it said there was no timeline for a restart.

San Onofre has been out of service since Jan. 31, when one of the nearly 39,000 steam generator tubes that carry radioactive water for heat transfer to help generate power sprang a leak.

The plant was shut down, and officials later discovered that hundreds of tubes were showing premature wear, apparently as a result of the flow of steam causing vibration that was making the tubes rub against each other. More than 1,300 tubes have been taken out of service because of wear.


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Photo: The AES power-generating facility in 2005. Credit: Robert Lachman / Los Angeles Times