San Diego Gas & Electric filed a legal challenge in San Diego Superior Court on April 14 seeking to be cut loose from Southern California Edison?s plans to replace steam generators at the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station (SONGS). If SDG&E is freed from paying its share in the investment, Edison?s ratepayers could be on the hook for more than $800 million to keep the nuclear facility running. Edison, the majority owner of SONGS, said that the generators need to be replaced because the current ones could start to deteriorate by 2009. But SDG&E, a 20 percent owner of SONGS, argued that the facilities were meant to have a much longer life (see <i>Circuit<\/i>, March 26, 2004). The units began operating in 1983 and 1984, respectively, and were supposed to run for 40 years, according to SDG&E. ?SONGS Units 2 & 3 were not designed with an expectation that these steam generators would be replaced during this life expectancy period,? the suit asserts. SDG&E is seeking an ?operating impairment? that it says was triggered by the deterioration of the generators. If this request is granted, the utility argues, it could choose not to invest in new facilities in exchange for reduction in its ownership of SONGS units 2 and 3. At an April 15 California Public Utilities Commission meeting considering Edison?s application to recover the replacement costs for the steam generators, the utility argued that the commission should evaluate its SONGS application while the legal dispute proceeds. ?This is a huge decision for the energy future? of the state, said John Spiegel, outside counsel for Edison. Administrative law judge Jeffrey O?Donnell replied that the utilities needed to take a stab at working out their dispute before he would rule on whether Edison?s application could go forward. The cities of Anaheim and Riverside, minority owners of SONGS, were also asked to cooperate. In addition, O?Donnell told Edison to change its application to reflect the fact that if SDG&E?s refusal to invest stands, the equation for costs and benefits of the project will change. Were SDG&E to reduce its ownership share in SONGS and thus lose 430 MW of power from the plant, the utility could replace 70 of those megawatts by building simple-cycle gas-fired turbines, according to James Walsh, SDG&E attorney. Pacific Gas & Electric?s request to replace generators at its Diablo nuclear facility was also before the CPUC, although much of the focus was on the SDG&E-Edison dispute. Advocacy groups complained that PG&E excluded them from joining a tour of the Diablo Canyon nuclear facility attended by commissioner Geoffrey Brown, PG&E CEO and president Gordon Smith, and three utility vice presidents. Theresa Cho, an attorney representing San Luis Obispo Mothers for Peace, said PG&E rescheduled the visit and conducted it earlier this month without informing her group, the Office of Ratepayer Advocates, or other advocacy groups. O?Donnell ordered PG&E to disclose more information about what transpired on the tour by next week. The utility?s action ?gives the impression [PG&E] is trying to exclude other parties,? he stated. The ALJ did not indicate when he would rule on PG&E?s motion seeking preapproval of costs for Diablo generator replacements or if the ruling would come prior to a commission decision on whether the project should proceed. Hearings on the Diablo case are scheduled to start August 23.