California Plan for SONGS Replacement Strikes a Sour Note

Last year’s shuttering of the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) left a big gap in Southern California’s electricity supply. State regulators at the CPUC have been tackling the issue of how to replace that lost generation through a regular planning process appropriately called the “Long Term Procurement Plan” or LTPP. Today, after months of input from advocates like Vote Solar, utilities, conservation groups, ratepayer interests and just about everyone in between, the CPUC issued its final decision on the state’s strategy for replacing SONGS . . . and given the state’s otherwise leadership stance on renewables and carbon reduction, it fell well short.

San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant

Throughout LTPP docket, Vote Solar has maintained that the state’s major utilities serving the region, Southern California Edison (SCE) and San Diego Gas and Electric (SDG&E), can entirely replace SONGS with clean ‘Preferred Resources.’ This includes a healthy mix of energy efficiency, demand response, distributed generation,and renewable resources, along with energy storage.  While the final decision does require SCE and SDG&E to procure a portion of this additional need with Preferred Resources, it unfortunately stopped short of requiring them to meet the entire need with clean resources. Given the utilities’ inclination to stick with what they know, it’s entirely likely they’ll opt to build more traditional natural gas generation rather than the innovative mix of clean energy resources that Californians need and want.

As problematic as the SONGS nuclear plant was, it provided up to 2,200 MW of carbon-free energy.  Replacing that resource with new natural gas plants would seriously hamper the State’s efforts to reduce climate pollution as well as further contribute to the LA basin’s notoriously bad air quality.

Every two years the Commission undergoes an LTPP proceeding to review and adopt ten-year procurement plans for California’s three investor-owned utilities. Today’s decision specifically authorizes SCE to procure 500 – 700 MW and SDG&E to procure 500 – 800 MW of new resources to meet the post-SONGS electricity needs of their customers:

  • Southern California Edison: For SCE, this 500-700MW of new capacity is in addition to the 1,400 MW and 1,800 MW that the Commission already authorized SCE to procure earlier in the lengthy LTPP docket.  The earlier authorization was granted in recognition of the retirement of a number of coastal generating plants that no longer meet a new state law that protects the ocean from the devastating impacts of hot water discharged from power plants.  The Commission also weighed in on what the mix of replacement resources should look like: at least 1,000 but no more than1,500 MW of new gas generation, a minimum of 50 MW of energy storage, a minimum of 550 MW of Preferred Resources, 300 – 500 MW of generation from any resource type, and up to 400 MW of optional additional Preferred Resources or energy storage, if SCE deems it necessary.

  • San Diego Gas and Electric: For SDG&E, the Commission approved the utility’s application to buy 300 MW of gas generation from a new gas plant, Pio Pico, in March of last year.  The recent decision adds 500 – 800 MW of procurement authorization to that earlier approval, bringing the total for San Diego up to 1,100 MW of new generation.  Of this amount, SDG&E must purchase 25 MW of energy storage and 175 MW of Preferred Resources – or a meager 18% of the total potential new resources.  As with SCE, the Commission allowed SDG&E to fill the remaining 300 – 600 MW with more natural gas generation.

While we appreciate the Commission’s sentiment encouraging SCE and SDG&E to purchase the maximum amount of clean energy to meet their needs, we believe they missed an important opportunity to make a bold statement in support of the state’s and the region’s climate change and clean energy goals.  Unfortunately, leaving the decision on a significant portion of the replacement generation to the discretion of risk-averse utilities will surely result in more carbon and pollution emitting natural gas.  All of that new fossil generation will come with a major cost to our ratepayers, our health and our climate.

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