Bill seeking to keep power plants open passes Senate, House

Naughton Power Plant

Senate File 159, “New Opportunities for Wyoming Coal-Fired Generation,” passed the House on second reading on Monday, Feb. 25. The House vote was 50 for, 8 against and 2 excused. The bill passed the Senate on third reading on Feb. 6. Now, the bill awaits a signature from Gov. Mark Gordon. 

The legislation would allow public utilities to collect revenue from power plants that replace coal-fired plants only if the utility first made a “good faith” effort to sell the retired coal-fired facility. Wyoming’s Public Service Commission would be responsible for determining whether the utilities made an effort to sell, rather than close, the coal-fired plants.

Sen. Dan Dockstader (Senate District 16-Lincoln, Sublette, Teton), the bill’s sponsor, has told the Gazette that this legislation is an effort to protect jobs in Lincoln County. Dockstader added that he didn’t think Wyoming was “ready to step away from an industry that drives the economy of several communities in the state.”

The bill is a direct response to PacifiCorp / Rocky Mountain Power’s latest Integrated Resource Plan.

The IRP, which is updated every two years, debates the costs and viability of maintaining several coal-fired power plants, including the Naughton Power Plant in Kemmerer and the Jim Bridger Power plant in Sweetwater County.

The Naughton plant burns coal from the Kemmerer mine and is an integral part of the county’s economic health.

PacifiCorp is still conducting a coal analysis study, which was first presented at a public input meeting in December. The initial findings of the study revealed that 13 of the company’s 22 coal units (including Naughton) are more expensive to operate than to shut down or replace with alternatives like natural gas. PacifiCorp even proposed that the plants could be shut down within a few years.

Local elected officials have expressed frustration at initially being excluded from conversations about the IRP that could spell trouble for the local power plant. Leaders and residents attended a Rocky Mountain Power’s public input meeting last month in Salt Lake City to express their concerns. The most recent public input meeting was hosted as a conference call.

At Monday’s council meeting, Mayor Tony Tomassi said he had spoken to Rocky Mountain Power Vice President for Wyoming Rita Meyer at a recent Wyoming Association of Municipalities (WAM) meeting.

“We didn’t get any real answers to our questions about the power plant, but at least (Rocky Mountain Power) knows we’re interested, and that we will be at all of their meetings,” Tomassi said.

PacifiCorp has responded on their website to comments submitted by the City of Kemmerer, stating that the IRP is an ongoing process, and there has not yet been enough analysis to inform any concrete decisions by the company regarding potential plant closures.