EDITORIAL: San Onofre closure will test state's power grid

June 10, 2013 

Southern California Edison's announcement on Friday that it won't restart the San Onofre nuclear power plant shouldn't shock anyone, least of all Gov. Jerry Brown.

But word that a huge source of California's electricity will be dark forever ought to jolt the governor, the official who will be held most responsible if California faces rolling blackouts this summer and beyond, as happened during Gray Davis' truncated tenure.

Brown and his friend, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Peevey, made the right statements in the wake of Edison's announcement. Along with the California Energy Commission, they are engaged in long-term planning and are on top of the issue, they say.

Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and anti-nuclear energy activists hailed the closure. Clearly, nuclear power long ago failed to live up to its promises. Its legacy in the form of spent waste will remain a problem for centuries.

But San Onofre and California's one remaining nuke, Diablo Canyon, delivered more than 15% of the state's electricity. San Onofre, located in northwest San Diego County, supplied power to 1.4 million homes. The plant cannot be replaced solely with sun and wind, at least not with current technology.

Still to be answered: Will the bills of Edison customers go up because of the utility's need to purchase more expensive power from elsewhere?

Edison International Chief Executive Ted Craver said Friday that the cost of replacement power while San Onofre sat idle was $500 million.

California is leading the nation and in many respects the world into a future that embraces renewable energy. But the power grid -- and the economy -- will require reliable baseline power for the foreseeable future. With the San Onofre plant forever shuttered, there must be alternatives.

"For the health of the state's environment and its economy, it is critical for California to get this transformation right," the non-partisan Little Hoover Commission, said in a report last year.

San Onofre is the third plant shuttered this year in the United States. Falling electricity prices forced the closure of Kewaunee Power Station in Carlton, Wis., and the Crystal River plant in Florida was retired because of faulty equipment replacement.

Edison idled San Onofre last year when a tube leaked radioactive steam, which led to a discovery that other tubes were rapidly corroding. The utility announced the permanent closure after concluding repairs would cost too much.

There will be plenty of investigating and litigating over blame for the faulty tubing. But this is clear: Californians don't want to think twice when they flip their switches. The governor should hope that this summer and subsequent ones will be relatively mild. Otherwise, the state's power grid could face a repeat of past serious tests.

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