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Rate cut suggested for San Onofre ratepayers

Posted: August 14, 2012 12:00 p.m.
Updated: August 14, 2012 12:00 p.m.

SAN DIEGO (AP) — Utility customers who are paying $650 million a year to maintain the San Onofre nuclear power plant should have their bills immediately slashed because the plant has been shut down since January due to damaged steam generator and shows no sign of restarting soon, a state ratepayers' advocate said.

Joseph P. Como, acting director of the California Public Utilities Commission's independent Division of Ratepayer Advocates, sent a letter Monday to the agency's commissioners urging them to cut the rates for customers of Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric Co.

Edison and SDG&E co-own the Southern California coastal plant along with the city of Riverside. Edison operates it.

Como said ratepayers are being charged $650 million a year, or about $54 million a month, for maintenance and operation of the plant even though its two reactors are offline.

"Neither unit is generating electricity or providing other ongoing benefits to customers," Como wrote.

State law says ratepayer payments can be suspended if a power plant is down for nine months. San Onofre won't hit that mark until November but the advocate said it's unlikely to restart earlier.

"Unit 2 will not be online anytime soon and that Unit 3 may never return to service," Como said.

The law allowing utilities to collect plant costs "is not intended to be a free pass for utilities to earn a return on nonfunctioning hardware for nine months," Como wrote.

Both reactors remain offline because of unexpected wear on scores of tubes that carry radioactive water. A three-month federal probe blamed a botched computer analysis for generator design flaws that ultimately resulted in heavy wear to the alloy tubing.

Edison has been trying to determine how to correct the problem.

A call to Edison seeking comment was not immediately returned early Tuesday.

The advocate's request "appears to be jumping the gun," since the PUC already has decided to open an investigation in November on the San Onofre problems, said SDG&E spokeswoman Stephanie Donovan.

That investigation will examine all the costs, said PUC President Michael R. Peevey.

"We're going to protect ratepayers ... but the manner in which we're doing it, I think, is more thoughtful than what the (ratepayer advocacy division) seems to be requesting," he told the Los Angeles Times (


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