- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 18, 2014

LOS ANGELES (AP) - A $2.3 billion proposal to rewire portions of Southern California’s transmission grid following the closure of the San Onofre nuclear power plant could mean higher electricity bills for consumers, the state’s power transmission agency said Tuesday.

The board of governors for the California Independent System Operator will vote early next month on the plan to improve the flow of power to the San Diego region and Los Angeles basin, spokesman Steven Greenlee said.

The annual upgrade proposal would then move on to the California Public Utilities Commission, which has the final say over transmission projects and consumer costs.

Customers statewide could eventually see a slight uptick in transmission access charges on their monthly bills, Greenlee said.

“It’s a very, very small percentage of a customer’s bill,” he said.

ISO officials said the proposed upgrade would reduce the need for additional power resources, including natural gas plants that could interfere with California’s aggressive clean-air and climate goals, according to U-T San Diego (http://bit.ly/1bJ1o3l).

Consumer advocates told the newspaper the $2.3 billion assessment appears to be overly cautious and wasteful, given recent declines in peak power use.

The largest transmission outlay under the proposal would loop in major power lines to an upgraded Mesa Substation and into the Los Angeles basin, according to the ISO’s 297-page report. At a cost of as much as $700 million, that project is also designed to reduce the need for new power plants in the Los Angeles region.

The new transmission request far exceeds approved plans for $1.34 billion in upgrades in 2012 and $691 million in 2011.

Southern California utility customers already are bracing for billions of dollars in potential rate increases under a separate plan that would authorize new power plants and clean-energy resources to make up for the loss of nuclear power, the newspaper reported.

San Onofre, a seaside plant between San Diego and Los Angeles, was shut down in January 2012 when a small radiation leak led to the discovery of unusual damage to hundreds of virtually new tubes that carry radioactive water. It accounted for 20 percent of San Diego’s year-round electricity needs, powering 1.4 million homes. Southern California Edison permanently shuttered the plant last year.

The Energy Information Administration said last July the shutdown was partially to blame for a 59 percent increase in wholesale electricity prices for California during the first half of 2013. The report also said the closure caused a large and unusual separation in power prices between the northern and southern parts of the state. Southern California prices were much higher.