Bill encourages sale, not closure of coal-fired plants

Senator Dan Dockstader (Senate District 16-Lincoln, Sublette, Teton)

Update: Senate File 159 passed the Senate on 3rd reading on Wednesday, Feb. 6. 

Senate File 159 was introduced into the Wyoming State Legislature on Jan. 24 and is titled “New opportunities for Wyoming coal fired generation.” It would provide a process for the “sale of an otherwise retiring coal-fired electric generation facility.”

The bill is sponsored by Senators Dan Dockstader (Senate District 16-Lincoln, Sublette, Teton), Eli Bebout (Senate District 26-Fremont County) and Ogden Driskill (Senate District 1 - Crook, Campbell, Weston).

It seems to be a direct response to coal-fired power plants in the state facing closure because of utility companies looking to cut costs or pursue more renewable energy options.

"This bill provides an opportunity for another company to own and operate the facility, rather than shut it down, causing people to lose their employment," Dockstader told the Gazette. 

Dockstader said the bill does address Rocky Mountain Power’s Integrated Resource Plan that examines the possibility of shutting down coal-fired power plants (including Naughton) to cut costs.

"I don’t think Wyoming is ready to step away from an industry that drives the economy of several communities in the state," Dockstader said. "I’m not giving up. I’ll keep this fight going, from attempting to move roads allowing access to viable coal operations to keeping plants open and running under new ownership. We have to keep moving forward with clean coal technology, but I’m not stepping down. I want to keep my Lincoln County and Wyoming neighbors employed." 

On Jan. 25, the bill was referred to the Senate Minerals Committee, who will decide whether to advance it. The legislation would prevent utility companies from seeing a return in investment on renewable energy at a power plant if they choose to close that plant without looking for buyers first.

The bill would prevent a utility from charging rates that include “recovery of or earnings on the capital costs associated with new electric generation facilities” that replaced coal-fired power plants if the utility did not make a “good faith effort to sell” rather than close.

Under this legislation, the Wyoming Public Service Commission would be responsible for determining if the utility company followed the procedure to sell.

Rep. Tom Crank (House District 18-Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta) is a member of the House Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee and the House Transportation, Highways and Military Affairs Committee.

Crank said the legislature does have a responsibility to protect Wyoming energy industry jobs. He also said another issue SF159 would need to address is the liability of a person who buys the plant.The bill’s treatment of a person, not a public utility, buying a plant, will likely be debated more if the legislation progresses. 

“Job security is an issue at these facilities,” Crank told the Gazette. “We’ll try to work on the problem from this end, and if people have suggestions, let us know and we can try to get something positive going.”

Sen. Dockstader echoed that feeling of responsibility of the legislature to maintain Wyoming's economy and jobs. 

"My number one priority is protecting our energy jobs and I will do everything in my power as a Legislator to keep our Wyoming people employed," Dockstader said.