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California Closer to Blackouts?


The Golden State’s power supply is struggling to keep up with demand, and the state was just hit with some bad news on that front last week. One utility announced on Friday that it would not be reopening a shuttered nuclear facility in Southern California. The San Onofre nuclear plant was closed last year over safety concerns after a radioactive steam leak; the plant’s operators vowed to fix the problem and reopen, but 17 months later have decided to close San Onofre for good.

Nuclear power carries with it a small chance of very big risk. Safety should be the top priority at these facilities, and the utility had good reason to close San Onofre. According to the LA Times, an “unprecedented” number of tubes in the reactor failed pressure tests, and “thousands more tubes in both of the plant’s units showed signs of wear.” But this decision could take a toll on Californian consumers, who are already paying for a $780 million project that replaced steam generators at San Onofre a few years ago. The utility spent more than $500 million trying to repair the facility before scrapping it, and it’s unclear if ratepayers will eat that cost as well.

But the loss of San Onofre isn’t just driving up prices for electricity, it’s also straining the supply. The facility produced 2,246 MW, enough to power more than two million homes. The EIA reports that California has brought on enough new generators to offset the San Onofre closing, but this won’t be enough; the electricity grid needs to be expanded to accomodate this new supply. And the California energy problem doesn’t stop there. The state’s reliance on renewable energy has exposed it to intermittency problems. When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, how will the state get the power it needs?

California needs to act quickly to fix its looming energy problems, or it might return to the “rolling blackouts” epidemic that hit the state in the early 2000s.

[San Onofre nuclear facility image courtesy of Wikimedia]

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  • bpuharic

    Earlier this year, the conservative (dare I say right wing) economist Veronique de Rugy wrote a little article in “National Review” pointing out that, without subsidies from govt and limits on liability, nuclear power would be prohibitively expensive.

    As a chemical engineer/physical chemist, I think it can be made cost competitive, but I believe we have a number of structural problems, including the inability to look at life cycle costs for various power sources. A number of years ago, while I was still in college, I happened to bump into Ralph Nader at an airport. He and I had a short conversation on nuclear power, he, of course, being against it. But I think the critics have a number of points in their corner and we have to address them if nukes are to be part of the energy mix for our society.

  • Dana Garcia

    Extra concerning when the Senate & Obama want to triple legal immigration and open the borders, so millions more power users are coming if elites have their way.

  • Andrew Allison

    If-and-when when the lights go out in Los Angeles and San Francisco, California may display some fracking common sense. As VM and others have noticed, the state is sitting on enormous reserves of shale oil. The problem, as noted above, is that the state as a whole and the shale area in particular are very short of water. The rest of the world must be bemused by the spectacle of California shutting down its agriculture to preserve a fish.

  • Tom Lindmark

    “When the wind isn’t blowing and the sun isn’t shining, how will the state get the power it needs?”

    They’ll get it the same way they do now. From coal fired plants in Arizona.

  • Fat_Man

    Couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys;-)

  • Corlyss

    I thought the rolling blackouts were largely a result of Enron connivance.
    Naturally Ca. will have nothing to do with its vast oil shale riches. Better to let ’em rot in the ground than exploit such an anti-Green resource.

  • theresanursemom

    This is what happens when your energy policy is conceived in the neighborhood of make-believe instead of the real world. Maybe when all the Hollywood and Silicon Valley movers and shakers are sitting in the dark, they will realize that reality does not conform itself to their idealist fantasies. Wealth cannot insulate one from reality indefinitely.

    • rheddles

      They’re not fools. They have backup generators. Wealth will insulate them from reality until the day after the Reconquista.

  • PeteRR

    SCE recently refused to renew it’s contract with a coal-fired co-gen facility located next to our chemical plant out here on the edge of the Mojave Desert. It now sits idle and only fires up for peak demand. The co-gen has a contract with us to provide steam to us as required. They can no longer fulfill that contract because of SCE. This impacts our soda ash production and impacts our bottom line.

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