California's electricity grid operator last week indicated it was making plans for a long-term loss of the 2,200 MW San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs), which is now in its eighth month out of service with no prospects for a resumption of operations.

One of the stopgap measures used this summer -- firing up two idle natural gas-fired generation units along the Southern California coast at Huntington Beach -- will not be available next year because of the units' emissions credit transfers taking place Nov. 1.

The California Independent System Operator (CAISO) said it plans to use the two gas-fired generating units in a nonpower production role supporting the grid's flow of transmission in the southern half of the state.

While the Huntington Beach generation units' emission credits are transferred to another generation plant as part of a sale lease-back AES Corp. made last year, CAISO said the gas-fired facilities can be used as "synchronous condensers," meaning instead of generating power they are used through their transmission grid connection to "push power" through the grid, a key role in the midst of peak summer day demand.

CAISO's governing board also last week approved a rule to allow the grid operator to prevent mostly gas-fired generation plants from permanently shutting down in the event they are needed to maintain adequate grid reliability.

With the help of the California Public Utilities Commission, CAISO already kept the Calpine Corp. 500 MW Sutter Energy Center from prematurely closing earlier this year on the basis of its critical need to grid reliability longer term. A grid report identified the Sutter plant as critical to state grid reliability in the 2017-18 time frame.

Meanwhile, Songs' majority owner/operator, Southern California Edison Co. (SCE), is planning to submit restart plans for one of the two idle units to the federal Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) in early October. NRC review, however, is expected to take "months" to review the application, according to a report in the Los Angeles Times.

The second unit, in which problems with tubing on new steam generators is much worse, is expected to be out of service indefinitely, the Times reported last Friday.

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