A decision on whether to restart the troubled San Onofre nuclear power plant was pushed back this week to June, forcing Southern California to brace for a long summer with potential power shortages.
The possibility looms that the region will go a second summer without power from San Onofre. Only this summer, Southern California won’t have help from the gas-fired generators in Huntington Beach that helped to cushion the blow last year.
The agency that controls California's electric grid is continuing to refine its plans to keep Southern California's lights burning by focusing on upgrades to the power grid and conservation efforts.
"Southern California continues to be something we keep and eye on especially given the outage at San Onofre," said California Independent System Operator CEO Stephen Berberich.
He and the ISO's Director of Infrastructure Development Neil Millar outlined summer plans for the state's grid to the ISO's board of governors Wednesday, a day after the Nuclear Regulatory Commission announced it wouldn't say whether San Onofre was safe to restart until as late as June.
The ISO is the body that governs the allocation of power throughout the state. Its engineers have been refining plans to make up for the missing piece of the energy puzzle that San Onofre represents during the hot summer months when home and industrial air conditioners strain the system.
The San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station shuttered in January of 2012 after a radioactive steam leak revealed that more than . Plant operator Southern California Edison ever since has been assessing the problem and attempting to convince regulators at least half the plant is safe to restart.
Summer of 2012 passed without any power outages caused by the loss of San Onofre. However, some of last year’s resources such as two mothballed gas-fired generators in Huntington Beach are gone this year, Berberich said.
"This summer will be more difficult than last summer," he said. "We won't have the two generators we had last summer. Last summer... it was hot, but not that hot, and we got within 50 megawatts of the San Diego peak."
This year, the emissions credits for that plan have expired, and the Huntington Beach plant can’t be fired up to produce power. Instead, those generators will still be used to keep power flowing on the grid. The turbines will be spinning, but instead of generating electricity, they'll be used to either absorb it or re-direct it to keep the alternating current on the grid flowing. That will allow more power to be imported.
Authorities also plan to add energy-storing capacitors at three substations throughout South Orange County and to split the Barre-Ellis transmission line from two lines into four to increase the flow into the region, Millar said.
Residents will also be asked to pay attention to flex alerts, the public announcements that will tell people when the grid is approaching its peak so people can conserve energy. Customers who conserve during flex alerts are rewarded with savings on their energy bills.
"[Flex alerts] are good practices, in general, but we're going to have to highlight them this summer," Berberich said.
All these measures cost money and have to be approved by the ratepayer advocate body, the California Public Utilities Commission. But ISO officials said Wednesday they didn't anticipate a problem with approvals.