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California Must Act to Replace San Onofre Electricity, State Report Says

Jan. 22, 2014—California must find better ways to meet the energy demands of a growing population and a recovering economy while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and addressing the potential effects of climate change on energy demand and supply, the state energy commission says in a report it adopted Jan. 15.

The state must find adequate power sources to replace the shutdown San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station that will offset the emissions avoided by that plant and address the effects of its closure on the reliability of the state’s electric grid, the report says.

The 2013 Integrated Energy Policy Report is the California Energy Commission’s assessment of key energy issues facing the state. It forecasts the state’s future energy supply and demand and features a single forecast that leaders of the state public utilities commission, grid operator and the commission use for planning and investment purposes.

The report describes California’s “loading order,” a guiding policy that gives priority to “preferred” energy strategies such as energy efficiency (using less energy to do the same job) and demand response (balancing energy demand with supply as needed to optimize grid stability). The policy also includes adding more traditional renewable and distributed energy sources.

“The only way we can maintain a reliable power system in Southern California with minimal economic and environmental costs is with a balanced portfolio of preferred and conventional resources,” Energy Commission Chair Robert B. Weisenmiller said in a news release.

The report says that, with the loss of electricity from the San Onofre nuclear power plant that shut down in 2012, the expected retirement of plants that use once-through cooling, and the need for flexibility to integrate intermittent renewable resources, more must be done to overcome technical, economic and policy barriers to meeting demand response goals set by the state in the early 2000s.

“There is a need for wholesale market design to recognize the advantages and limitations of demand response as compared to traditional generation,” the report says.

The 2013 report also looks for the first time at the impact climate change will have on electricity and natural gas consumption, in addition to electricity peak demand. It says California must plan for how climate change is likely to affect electricity supply and demand, particularly during heat waves and cold snaps.

Under a "mid" climate scenario, it found that consumption would increase by the equivalent of three large conventional power plants. Considering climate change in planning will reduce the possibility of future electricity shortfalls under a warming climate, the report suggests.

The San Onofre retirement is a recurring theme in the commission report, with repeated references to the need to replace the electricity from the 2,200-megawatt facility that generated 9 percent of California’s electricity, half of the nuclear power used in the state. The report projects that there will be “constraints” on energy supply in Southern California from the plant’s closure as well as effects on the state’s grid reliability. The report also acknowledges the need for—and difficulty of—finding replacement low-carbon power sources to offset the emissions avoided by San Onofre while it was operating.

The San Onofre facility was shut down in January 2012 when instruments detected a leak in a steam generator tube in reactor 3. Reactor 2, which has a similar steam generator, already was off-line for scheduled maintenance. Inspection of the recently installed steam generators showed degradation of the tubes in both reactors.

The cost of repairs and the uncertainty of the regulatory process led Southern California Edison to retire both reactors from service in June 2013.