Categoria: utilities

As San Onofre Comes Down, Bill Would Allow Small Reactors To Go Up

It was mid-December. The truckload of demolition debris was all loaded up and ready to depart the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station.

But before it could be released into the wild, radiation levels had to be checked several times to ensure they weren’t above “normal background.”

The needle on the hand-held meter twitched. Radiation levels were slightly above normal background.

“Material and equipment shall not be released from radiological controls if they are contaminated with plant-related radioactive material that is distinguishable from background,” the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in its most recent inspection report for San Onofre. “This two-step survey process was implemented, in part, to help prevent the accidental release of contaminated material.”

The truck returned to a restricted area for offloading. Workers found contaminated “radwaste discharge piping” that had been improperly marked. The remaining debris was scanned for radioactivity and cleared, while the recovered piping was “properly dispositioned as radioactive material,” the inspection report says.

The tear-down of a nuclear plant is a sensitive thing, and redundant checks are built into the process. They worked exactly as they were supposed to here, the NRC said. Southern California Edison’s demolition contractor completed a “condition report” to pinpoint the causes of the error and figure out how to keep it from happening again.

SOURCE: Southern California Edison As San Onofre comes down piece by piece — the reactor vessels are being sliced up, the turbine buildings demolished, the racks removed from spent fuel pools and pressure-washed to remove “gross contamination” — the nuclear industry is positioning itself as the bridge from a fossil fuel past to a renewable energy future.

It comes a bit late for San Onofre and Southern California.

Nuclear bridge The need for a better energy transition strategy has been driven home by skyrocketing natural gas prices in California and painful monthly bills.

Nuclear energy is “absolutely critical” to addressing climate change, the U.S. Department of Energy insists, and the NRC recently gave the thumbs up to a small modular reactor (SMR) design that has many in the industry excited for the “nuclear renaissance” that always seems just around the corner, but never quite arrives.

Why? Partly because many states ban the construction of new nuclear plants — including California, which says “no new nukes!” until the feds figure out where to put all that radioactive waste. Millions of pounds of spent fuel will remain on San Onofre’s bluff, entombed in concrete and steel, long after the last pieces of its reactors are carted away.

Pacific Gas and Electric’s Diablo Canyon Power Plant in Avila Beach. (AP Photo/Michael A. Mariant, File) But, as Diablo Canyon gets a life extension to help bridge this nettlesome energy transition (it’s the Golden State’s only operating nuclear power plant), California may join the states that are reconsidering.

Bills to allow new nuclear construction have been introduced all over the country, including in West Virginia, Connecticut, Oregon, Minnesota and Illinois. Here in California, Assembly Bill 65 would exempt small modular reactors from the state’s ban.

Folks in Orange County are inclined to agree. Fifty-seven percent of residents said we should revisit nuclear energy in the last Orange County Annual Survey out of Chapman University — but, of course, they don’t want those nuclear plants near their homes.

Small is beautiful? “Under existing law, it is the policy of the state that eligible renewable energy resources and zero-carbon resources supply 100% of all retail sales of electricity to California end-use customers and 100% of electricity procured to serve all state agencies by December 31, 2045,” says the Legislative Counsel’s digest of the bill.

If the state is to meet its ambitions goal, California must step up its game, a fact sheet on AB 65 says.

“Currently, California has a reliance upon imported energy production. In fact, California imports more electricity than any other state – about 30%, much of which is generated from harmful and unsustainable sources, such as coal-fired plants….

NuScale VOYGR™ SMR power plant (SOURCE: U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission) “To address these challenges, AB 65 would both expand the current energy portfolio by authorizing the development of SMRs within California, as well as require the Public Utilities Commission to adopt a plan to increase the procurement of electricity generated from nuclear facilities and to phase out the procurement of electricity generated from natural gas facilities.”

Small modular reactors offer advantages over conventional nuclear reactors and fossil fuel plants, it asserts: They have a smaller physical footprint, allow for greater flexibility in energy production, are cheaper and have enhanced safety and security designs. The PUC would have to adopt a plan to get more electricity from nuclear, and to phase out the procurement of electricity from natural gas, on or before Jan. 1, 2026.

Similar legislation was introduced in 2008, and 2019, and 2022. It never got far. This bill — by Assemblymember Devon Mathis, R-Porterville — is in committee. We aren’t holding our breath. But after $300 and $400 gas bills, Californians might be willing to take a look at next-generation nuclear.

Add to this the DOE’s renewed push to find temporary sites to store nuclear waste — it has set aside $26 million to help communities learn more about “consent-based siting” and management of spent nuclear fuel while it figures out the long-term solutions (which will have to involve deep geologic burial) — as well as a worldwide flirt with the possibility of clean fusion energy, and we find ourselves firmly in the 21st century.

So last century Meanwhile, the 20th-century technology that created San Onofre continues to disappear.

“While the decommissioning work may not be visible to passersby, for us at the plant, the site changes weekly,” said a recent update by Edison Vice President and Chief Nuclear Officer Doug Bauder.

Demolition work at San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station. (Image courtesy Southern California Edison) To wit: More than half of the buildings on site — 33 of 62 — have been demolished. More than 144 million pounds of waste has been shipped off-site. Cooling water intake systems have been isolated, drained and cleaned out. Racks have been removed from the Unit 2 spent fuel pool.

Once all the racks are removed from that pool, work will start on the racks from the Unit 3 pool, according to the NRC. Then the remaining water from the two pools will be drained, processed “and released in accordance with the Offsite Dose Calculation Manual.”

Meanwhile, the contractor doing the demo work will do a better job of clearly marking potentially contaminated pieces and parts, said Edison spokesman Dave Eisenhauer. The piping had been identified as potentially contaminated, but could have been better marked, he said.

The marking color for radioactive and potentially radioactive pieces: Magenta.

Striking color or no, it would be hard for a contaminated piece to slip off-site unnoticed. In the initial check, a radiation tech uses a handheld monitor to sweep the truck the load. That’s when the above-background level was found in this instance, Eisenhauer said.

Trucks are also scanned as they drive through a large truck monitor, and are scanned again by a handheld monitor before leaving the site, he said. Once they arrive at recycling centers, loads are scanned again before they’re accepted.

“There are several checks, and those systems worked as intended,” he said.

But, going forward, expect more generous use of magenta.

SOURCE: Southern California Edison

In LA, Are You Paying The Right Amount For Your Rental Home’s Utilities?

The Los Angeles City Council voted on Tuesday, Feb. 14, to explore a potential ordinance that would require greater transparency from landlords on tenant utility bills.

The City Council instructed the Los Angeles Housing Department to report within 60 days on recommendations on the implementation of the ordinance, taking into account recommendations that include:

— requiring landlords and third-party agencies to disclose the methodology of utility charges;

— restricting billing for utilities outside a tenant’s unit;

— potentially using the LAHD as a mediator to resolve disputes for utility services between landlords and tenants;

— compliance strategies such as an enforcement program.

Councilmember Nithya Raman, who co-presented the original motion last February, said that many large buildings don’t have individual meters for each unit, so what tenants see in their utility bill is often an estimate based on a formula.

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Conspiracy! Illegal! California’s New Solar Rules Must Be Ditched, Critics Say


Critics who hate the state’s new rooftop solar rules — which slash the amount that future rooftop solar owners will get for exporting power to the grid — are demanding a rehearing before the California Public Utilities Commission.

“The decision is part of a conspiracy to violate antitrust laws,” one petition for a do-over asserts.

The alleged conspirators? The three big utilities — Pacific Gas and Electric, Southern California Edison and San Diego Gas & Electric (who said that current rooftop solar owners are credited for far more than their exported power is really worth, forcing their non-solar neighbors to pay for it).

The co-conspirators? Gov. Gavin Newsom, the Natural Resources Defense Council, The Utility Reform Network and the California Public Utilities Commission itself (which favored a revamp).

The conspiracy’s objectives? “Wholesale and retail price fixing, group boycotting, price discrimination.”

“We allege that the CPUC has effectively surrendered its regulatory authority … over the IOUs (investor-owned utilities) by affording the IOUs undue influence and control over the CPUC deliberations, decisions and actions … and by politically incestuous relationships between regulator (CPUC) and regulated (IOU) officials,” said the motion by CAlifornians for Renewable Energy and Michael E. Boyd.

Illegal! A separate request for a rehearing, by the Center for Biological Diversity, the Protect Our Communities Foundation and the Environmental Working Group, is markedly less colorful.

Instead of asserting conspiracy and manipulation, it argues that the PUC made legal errors and thus the decision must be reversed.

The errors? California law requires the PUC to foster “continued sustainable growth” of solar power and encourage its spread in disadvantaged communities. The new rules will do neither, they argue.

The PUC also weighed the costs of rooftop solar on non-solar folks too heavily, and weighed the savings from canceled transmission projects (because rooftop solar meant they weren’t needed) too lightly, they say.

“By adopting a successor tariff that increases payback periods and decreases bill savings, the decision will devastate solar adoption rates and thus fail to ensure the continued sustainable growth of distributed generation,” the rehearing request says.

Several groups have lined up in support of a rehearing with the PUC, saying that the climate emergency makes swift action critical.

(File photo by Jeff Gritchen, Orange County Register/SCNG) Deja vu A response filed jointly by the three big utilities effectively sighs, “Haven’t we done this already?”

The rehearing request reprises arguments “that were fairly litigated in the proceeding and resolved in the decision,” they say. The PUC made factual and policy determinations within its discretion. The groups “failed to present any legal error,” and their “attempt to re-litigate the same issues should be rejected and the application for rehearing denied.”

Their critics’ error, the utilities assert, is interpreting the phrase “continues to grow sustainably” as meaning “maintaining current growth rates.” The PUC commissioners acknowledged that there’s a drop-off in rooftop solar installations after updates to the rules (what’s officially known as “net energy metering”), but that growth eventually recovers.

The PUC’s rejection of critics’ “strained interpretation of the statute” is not legal error, the utilities argue.

So what’s next? The parties will file responses with the PUC. The PUC will review everything and determine whether the folks asking for a do-over demonstrated legal error in the underlying decision. Then the PUC will issue a formal decision, yay or nay, on a rehearing, “but there is no specific timeline for the CPUC’s issuance of that decision,” said spokeswoman Terrie Prosper.

Sullivan Solar Power apprentice Erik Straub carries a solar panel during an installation at a home in Ladera Ranch.(File photo by Nick Agro, Orange County Register/SCNG) What’s this about again? About a quarter-century ago, California sought to juice the adoption of rooftop solar. It put a system in place that compensated rooftop solar owners handsomely for exporting excess power to the grid for their neighbors to use.

As the years went by, though, huge industrial-scale solar farms came online. Solar power became cheaper. But the amount rooftop solar owners got for their power did not decrease, the utilities argue.

That — along with the fact that solar owners weren’t hit with the fixed costs related to maintaining the grid — resulted in a big cost-shift to non-solar households of some $4 billion a year, analyses have found.

There have been adjustments to “net metering” over the years, and a 2013 law required the PUC to address this cost shift. Its first wildly controversial proposal for how to do this, released more than a year ago, would have charged all solar owners a higher fee for fixed costs and reduced credits for exported energy. Rooftop solar owners went ballistic. The proposal was withdrawn.

This new plan, adopted in December, tries to walk a middle ground. Vitally, it exempts all existing rooftop solar owners from any changes. They’ll remain on their current tariff plans for 20 years after their systems hooked into the grid.

Going forward, folks who install new systems with batteries to store solar power — and who can pump energy after dark when it’s most needed — will get the most handsome compensation. Folks without batteries, who only pump excess energy to the grid during the day when it’s already plentiful, will get much less compensation.

Boxes of petitions against proposed reforms in 2021. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli) The goal is to transition to a “thriving” solar-plus-storage marketplace, to avoid the need for fossil fuel-powered plants to make electricity after the sun goes down, the PUC said.

The new rules will save new residential solar customers $100 a month on average, and solar-plus-battery customers will save at least $136 a month on average, the PUC said. It will also allow eligible customers access to $900 million — with $630 million set aside for low-income customers — to encourage solar-paired-with-storage systems and stand-alone storage. New systems would be paid off by savings in nine years or less.

The decision was hated by folks on all sides of the issue. It cements the $4 billion-a-year cost shift onto non-solar backs for perpetuity, some said. It will result in the destruction of the solar industry in California, others said.

We’ll see, soon enough, where the PUC stands. Predictions welcome.