Governor Gordon signs coal plant bill

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signs SF159 on Friday, March 8, as bill sponsor Sen. Dan Dockstader (left) looks on. (COURTESY PHOTO / Kent Connelly)

On March 8 Governor Mark Gordon signed Senate File 159, “New Opportunities for Wyoming coal-fired generation.”

The legislation will require utilities to make a “good faith” effort to sell coal-fired power plants before shutting them down.

“Coal has long been one of Wyoming’s paramount industries,” Gordon said at the bill signing ceremony. “And I think back a few years ago about the great strides the coal industry had made in reducing emissions, reducing carbon dioxide. Really, no other industry has done as much as coal has to reduce their carbon footprint. Wyoming is leading the way with new technologies, ways to address this issue that don’t put people out of work and don’t just follow political fashion. It’s about driving forward to the future.”

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

The bill was sponsored by (Sen. Dan Dockstader (Senate District 16-Lincoln, Sublette, Teton).

“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 when the bill was introduced in the Wyoming state legislature in January.

“I don’t think Wyoming is ready to step away from an industry that drives the economy of several communities in the state,” Dockstader continued. “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.”

PacifiCorp’s IRP, which is still in the works and must be approved by the Wyoming Public Service Commission, features a coal analysis. PacifiCorp stated the study revealed that several coal-fired power plants, including the Naughton plant in Kemmerer, are more costly to operate than to shut down or convert to renewable energy.

In the IRP, the company proposes dates as soon as 2022 for shutdown of the plants.

Lincoln County Commission chairman Kent Connelly discussed the bill’s importance to the county’s economic future.

He mentioned that Lincoln County will already suffer from the Unit 3 shutdown at the Naughton plant, so PacifiCorp’s potential plans for a complete shutdown would spell economic disaster.

“Essentially, the coal mine pays $9.8 million in taxes to us per year, and Rocky Mountain Power pays $3 million a year,” Connelly said. “We have an $18 million yearly budget, so  anything that would have that much of an impact on our budget is something we’ll be concerned about.”

Senate File 159 will 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.

Critics of the legislation have suggested that it is a band-aid to extend the lifespan of costly and inefficient coal-fired power plants. But Connelly said utilities like Rocky Mountain Power have not yet proved to local government that a shutdown of coal-fired power plants and conversion to renewable energy would be cost-effective or even feasible. 

“Show me the actual numbers that say it would save costs,” Connelly said. “Coal is cheaper than wind power. You’ve got to keep the lights on. We haven’t received those numbers from Rocky Mountain Power.

“We know things are going to change, and we’re proactive in going forward with that,” Connelly continued. “But we can’t afford a complete conversion away from coal.”

The Lincoln County Commissioners have applied to be part of the Coal-Reliant Communities Innovation Challenge in Denver.

“We are looking at ways to diversify our workforce,” Connelly said. “But to have (Rocky Mountain Power) say they’re not going to allow a free market and just shut (a plant) down, would hurt these communities. This bill means a whole lot to the counties who would be affected by a shutdown.”

Connelly said the commissioners will attend another PacifiCorp public input meeting on March 21 in Salt Lake City.

“Senate File 159 is important for keeping us at the table and protecting jobs,” Connelly said. “As far as clean coal technology, we want to be a part of that process. Don’t make these changes without us.”