Mark Rightmire / Orange County Register

A surfer walks on the beach near the disabled San Onofre nuclear power plant. The plant is to be shut down permanently.

Permanent closure of San Onofre nuclear power plant will shrink summer power supply

Published: Saturday, Jun. 8, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 6B
Last Modified: Monday, Jun. 10, 2013 - 7:11 am

The closure of one of California's largest power plants will tighten supplies, but problems should be manageable – and limited to Southern California.

With summer air conditioning season revving up, Southern California Edison announced Friday it will retire the San Onofre nuclear power plant, which has been offline for 18 months.

Located in San Clemente, the plant powered 1.4 million homes and generated about 4 percent of California's electricity. San Onofre is one of two nuclear plants in the state; the other is Pacific Gas and Electric Co.'s Diablo Canyon facility near San Luis Obispo.

While officials said any problems will likely be confined to Southern California, the closure of San Onofre underscores the continued delicate balance between supply and demand for energy in the state.

Steve Berberich of the California Independent System Operator, which runs the state's transmission grid, said pockets of Southern California will likely be subjected to conservation alerts this summer as the demand for electricity grows.

"It will be tight – we will have to have conservation messages out there," said Berberich, the ISO's chief executive. "If we ask for conservation, we need (consumers) to respond." Gov. Jerry Brown issued his own call for conservation.

Berberich said a string of new natural gas-fired plants in the region should help offset some of the energy loss. Shortages should ease in future years as additional supplies come online, including solar and other renewable energy sources.

"We can get through this summer, assuming we don't have any major catastrophes or fires," Berberich said on a conference call with reporters. "I think we can squeeze by."

By coincidence, the ISO announced that solar generation in California hit a record 2,071 megawatts Friday afternoon, enough to power 1.5 million homes.

ISO officials noted that California got through last summer without San Onofre and were already preparing for another peak demand season without the big nuclear plant.

"It is something that we've been planning for," Berberich said.

One big step was winning a legal battle with energy trader JPMorgan Chase & Co., which was using a power-supply contract to block a critically needed conversion of two plants in Huntington Beach.

At the urging of the governor, the ISO and the Public Utilities Commission, federal regulators ordered JPMorgan in January to get out of the way of the conversion.

The conversions will allow electricity to flow more smoothly through Southern California. The work is nearly done and the plants will be available June 26. "That has been resolved," Berberich said.

Call The Bee's Dale Kasler, (916) 321-1066. Follow him on Twitter @dakasler.

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