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California Power Reliability Top Concern for FERC Commissioner

Edison International (EIX)’s plans to retire two Southern California nuclear reactors has made the state’s ability to generate sufficient power a top concern of federal regulators.

Edison’s Southern California Edison electricity utility said today it will permanently shut the 2,200-megawatt San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, closed since January 2012, because of uncertainty over when or if regulators would allow the plant to return to service.

The reactors at the plant, about midway between Los Angeles and San Diego, were shut down after a radioactive leak and the discovery of unusual wear on tubes that transfer reactor heat to power-generating turbines.

“It was already near the top of the list of areas of concern for reliability, but it shot up to the top of the list and it’s going to be a few years before that can essentially be solved,” Philip Moeller, a Federal Energy Regulatory Commission member, said in a telephone interview.

The California Independent System Operator Corp., which runs the state’s grid, said in March that it may prove “difficult” to manage parts of the grid, particularly Southern California, without San Onofre and during a below-average year for hydroelectric generation.

Until today, the plant’s restart “was a pretty big uncertainty hanging out there,” Moeller said. Shutting the reactors will increase the state’s reliance on natural gas to produce electricity, he said.

The loss of San Onofore, and the pending shutdown of additional power plants over the next few years because of state regulations limiting the intake of water for cooling, will increase the risk of blackouts for several years, Moeller said.

“It’s a really important generator that’s in a very critical load pocket, so it just means that the area is going to need more generation, more transmission,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Naureen S. Malik in New York at nmalik28@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Dan Stets at dstets@bloomberg.net

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