Navy nears power deal to help avoid Cal blackouts

Associated Press Modified: April 29, 2012 at 3:31 pm •  Published: April 29, 2012
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LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. Navy is nearing a first-time agreement to curb electricity use at its sprawling San Diego-area bases if power runs short in Southern California this summer, a deal intended to diminish the threat of blackouts while the troubled San Onofre nuclear plant remains offline.

The Navy is San Diego Gas & Electric's largest customer, and the utility has been working on an agreement under which the Navy would temporarily reduce its energy consumption if regional supplies get scarce. In exchange, the Navy would receive a break on electricity rates.

The company has similar agreements with large industrial customers, which can slash the demand for power at critical times and keep the lights burning.

State energy officials say Southern California could be hit by rotating blackouts this summer if a heat wave hits while San Onofre's twin reactors remain dark, though some activists insist adequate reserves are on hand.

The plant, which can crank out enough electricity for 1.4 million homes, has been shut down for nearly three months while investigators try to determine the cause of excessive wear on hundreds of alloy tubes that carries radioactive water in its massive steam generators.

The loss of the nuclear plant also makes it harder to import power into the San Diego area, where reliable energy transmission has long been a thorny issue.

"If the (San Onofre) units remain down, you obviously have less power supply down there. If you have a transmission line go down, or another generator go down, you are in a very tight situation," said Bruce Kaneshiro, a supervisor at the state Public Utilities Commission.

Capt. Dora Lockwood, a Navy spokeswoman, said the company is working on a target for power reductions, if needed, at the numerous Navy installations in San Diego County, which include Naval Base San Diego, the Naval Air Station North Island in Coronado and Miramar Marine Corps Air Station.

"We will do our best, while preserving our capability to carry out our mission responsibilities, to support their request," Lockwood said.

SDG&E spokeswoman Jennifer Ramp said a deal could be finalized shortly.

"The military is aware of the challenges this summer," Ramp said.

State energy planners have been working on a strategy to find replacement power in the region and reduce demand if hot weather hits while the nuclear plant is sidelined. Those plans include restarting two retired power plants in Huntington Beach, urging conservation, such as using air conditioners sparingly, and seeking temporary power cutbacks, if needed, from the military and public agencies.

On Friday, Southern California Edison, which operates San Onofre, asked state regulators to approve a plan to promote conservation among its commercial customers in Orange County — they can earn a 10 percent rebate by cutting consumption by 10 percent during the summer, when demand is high.

No date has been set to restart either reactor, which are located between San Diego and Los Angeles.

It takes power to move power, and the restart of the Huntington Beach plants will allow increased transmission into the region, said Stephanie McCorkle, a spokeswoman for the agency that operates the state's wholesale power system, the California Independent System Operator.

The loss of the nuclear plant can restrict power imports into San Diego area by up to 30 percent. The San Diego utility hopes a new, $1.8 billion transmission line will be completed by summer, which would help fill any shortages.