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November 22, 2013

Replacing the San Onofre Nuclear Plant

Can We Afford More Air Pollution, Climate Disruption, and Higher Bills?

San-Onofre-power-plantSan Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

By Matthew Vespa, Senior Attorney, Environmental Law Program


This past June, Southern California Edison (“SCE”), one of the largest electric utilities in the nation, announced the permanent retirement of the 2,200 MW San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (“San Onofre”) after significant tube damage was discovered in its steam generators. The unexpected shutdown of San Onofre presents an exciting opportunity for California to demonstrate how it can continue to meet its future energy needs without new fossil fuel plants.


Unfortunately, state regulators at the California Public Utilities Commission (“CPUC”) are now considering building new gas plants in Southern California to replace San Onofre.  Given the severe impacts of gas plants on public health and the environment, the region’s reduced energy needs, and the availability of clean energy solutions, there is no legitimate basis for the CPUC to approve new gas-fired power plants in response to the San Onofre shutdown.


New Gas Plants Are Costly, Increase Air Pollution, and Move Us Backwards On Meeting Our Climate Goals


New gas plants are extremely costly and would exacerbate the serious public health impacts already experienced in a region with some of the dirtiest air in the nation. New gas plants would also undermine California’s climate targets by replacing a carbon-free energy source with carbon-intensive generation. Following the shutdown of San Onofre, greenhouse gas pollution from in-state electricity generation rose 35 percent due to increased use of gas-fired power plants.1 


Authorizing new gas plants as a permanent replacement solution for San Onofre in lieu of clean energy alternatives would mark a significant and potentially unrecoverable step backward in California’s efforts to combat climate change. As recognized by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, “a transition to zero- and near-zero emission technologies is necessary to meet 2023 and 2032 air quality standards and 2050 climate goals.”


We Don’t Have to Choose Between Reliability and Pollution


Fortunately, no new gas plants are needed. While one might reflexively assume that retirement of a facility the size of San Onofre would require at least some gas-fired replacement generation, this assumption ignores both the significant progress California has already made in transitioning toward clean energy and the additional potential to accelerate deployment of clean energy resources.


Due in part to incorporation of recently adopted building and appliance codes, the latest demand forecast by the California Energy Commission (“CEC”) lowers future projections of energy demand in Southern California by over half the capacity provided by San Onofre. Remaining need resulting from the retirement of San Onofre should be met by properly accounting for anticipated progress in California’s clean energy programs: energy efficiency, distributed (rooftop and small scale) solar, energy storage, and demand response (incentivized changes in energy use by consumers from their regular usage pattern). To the extent that need still remains, it can be filled with additional targeted deployment of these resources.


If necessary, transmission improvements can also reduce the need for new gas-fired generation in the LA Basin. For example, the Mesa Loop-In project proposed by SCE to upgrade an existing substation would reduce generation need in the LA Basin by 1,200 MW –- the equivalent of two new mid-size gas plants.


A preliminary decision by the CPUC to approve new gas plants to replace San Onofre is expected in January. Contact the CPUC today and tell them not to replace San Onofre with new dirty gas plants.  Gas plants will make our air and climate worse and just aren’t needed.


For more information on San Onofre and evidence highlighting the lack of need for new gas plants as replacement capacity, read the following Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) on the San Onofre Nuclear Plant.



1 California Air Resources Board, 2208-2012 Emissions for Mandatory Greenhouse Gas Emissions Reporting Summary (Nov. 4, 2013) (showing increase in in-state greenhouse gas emissions from 30,732,214 metric tons in 2011 to 41,610,182 in 2012 and attributing change to increase in use of natural gas as fuel due to decrease in hydroelectric generation and loss of San Onofre), available at http://www.arb.ca.gov/cc/reporting/ghg-rep/reported-data/2008-2012-ghg-emissions-summary.pdf.


2 South Coast Air Quality Management District, Final 2012 Air Quality Management Plan (Dec. 2012), p. 1‑20, available at http://www.aqmd.gov/aqmp/2012aqmp/Final/Chapters.pdf.

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