KEMMERER — The Wyoming Public Service Commission has launched an investigation into the Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) from Rocky Mountain Power (RMP). The IRP, filed on Oct. 18, 2019, is the road map for what RMP is planning for the integration of the coal mines into natural gas. This has caused concern in the cities with coal plants and with the Wyoming Public Service Commission.
“Given the potential impact of RMP’s Preferred Portfolio on Wyoming customers, it is necessary and desirable that the Commission commence a contested case proceeding, pursuant to the Wyoming Administrative Procedure Act, to allow the Commission and other interested parties to adequately explore all aspects of the 2019 IRP,” the order from the Wyoming Public Service Commission states. The commission is looking at the impact of cost and the reliability of RMP to its customers if they follow the plan.
“Any given impact decision to retire coal-fired generation units prior to the end of their established depreciable lives may adversely impact the cost and reliability of service provided to RMP’s Wyoming customers while producing significant negative economic impacts,” states the order.
Wyoming Public Media reported that Wyoming Public Service Commission chief counsel Chris Petrie said, “We want to make sure the commission is completely aware of the methodologies, assumptions and the entire process that was carried on in this IRP and that results in the preferred portfolio that the company has identified,” adding that, to his recollection, this would be the first time the Wyoming Public Service Commission launched an investigation into an IRP.
The Wyoming Public Service Commission is going to look at many different factors, including “the reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, the time period and customer impact and calculation of the estimated $111 million in customer benefits, cost associated with existing and potential environmental regulations, including control or limitation of carbon dioxide emissions, reliability modeling, and inclusion of battery storage,” states the order.
The commission will hold open meetings for public comment on Jan. 28, 2020, from 4-7 p.m. at the Kemmerer City Council Chambers, and Jan. 29, 2020, from 11 a.m.-2 p.m. at the Rock Springs City Council Chambers. These meetings are to hear the thoughts of the public on the topic.
According to RMP’s IRP, Naughton Unit 3 will change over to a 247-megawatt natural gas unit in 2020, and be used at high energy times. Units 1 and 2 will retire by 2025, four years before their established life. When those two units retire, it could cause the reliability of RMP to the consumer to drop until units 1 and 2 can be changed over, this being a major concern to the Wyoming Public Service Commission.
Kemmerer City Administrator Brian Muir suggested that RMP should invest in the newer carbon-catching technologies and sell it to petroleum companies, which use the carbon emission instead of trying to change over to natural gas. He said if plants start using natural gas, the price to the consumer would, in essence, go up due to a higher demand for natural gas, which is currently less costly. The alternatives of wind, solar, gas and battery, which RMP would like to change to, do not have the same energy output as coal, Muir said.
His next suggestion was to look into the nuclear reactor plants, which would give the same energy output. The reactors have created a smaller, safer version, but it is also more expensive. With towns throughout Wyoming that thrive on coal mines and coal-powered plants, it has become a tug-of-war between Wyoming and RMP.
“Tourism is our next biggest profit after energy,” Muir said. “Who wants to see a bunch of windmills? They want to see deer and eagles, not windmills.”
“We (county commissioners) absolutely agree with the investigation We were part of the group that called for it,” said County Commission Chairman Kent Connelly. He went on to say, at the meeting RMP held Nov. 12, the vice president of the Sierra Club said the power has to come from somewhere the wind does not blow at night and the sun does not shine. “The farmers that cannot turn on their pivots to water their fields, I know farmers that are shutting down their pivots early in the season due to high electric bills,” said Chairman Connelly, “Wyoming should not be paying for what Oregon, Washington and California wants.” According to Connelly, Wyoming does not have the natural gas resources that Alaska has. Right now, the price of natural gas is low, and we should be using it and not storing it.
“An Act relating the public utilities; limiting the recovery of cost for the retirement of coal- fired generation facilities; providing a process for the sale of an otherwise retiring coal fired electric generation facility; exempting a person purchasing an otherwise retiring coal fired electric generation facility from regulation as a public utility; and providing for an effective date,” says the summary of Senate File 159, which has become the “Hail Mary” from the Wyoming government stating, “… to replace the electricity generated from one or more coal fired generation units or plant located in Wyoming and retired on or after Jan. 1, 2022, unless the commission has determined that the public utility that owned the retired coal fired electric generation facility made a good faith effort to sell the facility to another person prior to its retirement and that the public utility received no reasonable offer to purchase to facility.” With the IRP under investigation it has now opened the door for the Wyoming Public Service Commission to look deeper into the plans of RMP.