While there were assurances Monday that the idled San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (Songs) is not going to be closed permanently, there also were no indications when at least one of its two units may be back online. As a result, California energy planners need to assume stepped-up natural gas-fired generation will be needed to make up for the 2,200 MW nuclear facility’s absence this summer.

While the Songs plant continues to struggle, including a nonthreatening fire incident in its Unit 2 as recently as last Friday, majority owner/operator Southern California Edison Co. (SCE) and Chief Nuclear Officer Pete Dietrich have given assurances that the 40-year-old plant is not slated for permanent closure, which would mean California longer term would have to find more gas-fired and renewable sources of power.

Some physical gas traders attributed the bump in West Coast gas prices Monday to the outage of the Songs nuke (see Daily GPI, April 24).

Gas plants account for about two-thirds (67.5%) of the state’s 50,341 MW of available capacity, according to the state grid operator, the California Independent System Operator (CAISO).

Last month state and utility energy strategists predicted that natural gas for power generation could jump this summer if temperatures soar, following action by federal regulators in late March to keep Songs closed indefinitely (see Daily GPI, March 29). As was the case a month ago, on Monday neither SCE, which is the majority owner (78%) of Songs, nor the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) would speculate on how long the plant could remain offline following recurring problems with tube leaks in operating Units 2 and 3.

SCE made two separate formal notifications to the NRC last Friday, underscoring what it has been going through since discovering the tube leaks, first in Unit 3 and subsequently in Unit 2, which already had been taken out of service for planned maintenance. The first notification was of an “unusual event” that was a small fire in an electrical panel in the nonradiological side of the unit. The “event” lasted less than an hour and there was no threat to the public or employees, SCE said.

Later the same day, SCE said it had completed its tube inspections at Songs Unit 2. The utility operator had identified wear on two of 19,454 tubes in the unit that it concluded was similar to the wear seen in Unit 3. Unit 2 was originally taken out of service for planned maintenance Jan. 9; Unit 3 was shut down Jan. 31 after the tube leaks were discovered.

In a report by the Los Angeles Times Tuesday Dietrich gave no indication what was causing the tube breakdowns, when it might be resolved, or when one or both of the Songs units would be back. Prospects for a summer without Songs in operation prompted CAISO earlier in the year to call for restarting an idle gas-fired plant in Huntington Beach in Southern California, as well as other contingencies (see Daily GPI, March 22).

©Copyright 2012Intelligence Press Inc. All rights reserved. The preceding news reportmay not be republished or redistributed, in whole or in part, in anyform, without prior written consent of Intelligence Press, Inc.