A decision about whether to retire the still idle San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS) in Southern California could come by the end of this year, the CEO of Edison International, the majority owner/operator, said Tuesday.

Even with its merchant energy unit discontinued and entering Chapter 11 bankruptcy and the SONGS outage stretching into 15 months, Edison reported increased 1Q2013 profits of $271 million (77 cents/share), compared with $93 million (54 cents), for the same period last year, said CEO Ted Craver. He discussed the quarterly results during a conference call.

As the largest baseload source of electric generation in Southern California with 2,200 MW, the loss of SONGS would require other types of generation, including more natural gas-fired generation and various efficiency programs, particularly in the upcoming summer months of air conditioning-driven peak loads (see Daily GPI, March 26; Feb. 28).

Edison’s Southern California Edison Co. (SCE), which is the majority owner/operator of SONGS, is hoping to obtain swift approval from federal regulators to restart at partial (70%) capacity Unit 2 this summer, Craver said. Sempra Energy’s San Diego Gas and Electric Co. owns 20% of SONGS and a municipal utility holds about 3%.

SONGS plays “an important role” in Southern California’s electrical reliability, Craver said, and safety is the overriding key to the request for an amendment to the license and restart plan filed earlier this year with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC). Summer grid planning statewide, including the question of gas-fired generation, is closely tied to the ultimate action, and how quickly it comes, from the NRC staff. NRC is still in the public comment and evaluation phase of looking at the filing, Craver added.

“Without a restart of Unit 2 [this year], a decision to retire one or both units [at Songs] would likely be made before year-end 2013,” he said. “There are many potential decisions to be made [on both Units 2 and 3], and they all have different implications for grid reliability, customer costs, attainment of greenhouse gas reduction/air quality objectives, and many other factors. We look to narrow the uncertainties and the potential operating scenarios for both units before the end of this year.”

As of the end of last year, SCE has submitted insurance claims totaling $234 million to cover the outage cost, and its share of that would be $183 million, Craver said. Utility rate recovery that would be paid for by SCE retail customers is being considered in state regulatory proceedings.

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