Kemmerer mine sold but future of retiree benefits still uncertain

According to Lincoln County Commissioner Kent Connelly, the sale of the Kemmerer coal mine is a “done deal,” and the North American Construction Group Ltd., a Canadian company, is now in charge.  

While the mine is still up and running, that’s not to say there haven’t already been changes.

“The contract has been signed; the back taxes paid; and union workers are still there working. Whenever a major corporation is sold, the upper management is always replaced and that is common knowledge. So about 30 people have already left the mine,” Connelly said in a telephone interview. Connelly said the concerns of many retirees and whether their benefits will continue are still ongoing.

Job listings for new management positions and other positions within the company are listed on the North American company’s website.

Connelly went on to say how the contract with Rocky Mountain Power to buy coal from the Kemmerer mine is secure until 2021. He said 55 percent of the nation’s power comes from coal and the coal from the Kemmerer mine is of a high quality. When Rocky Mountain Power shut down one unit at its Naughton plant, the county lost $3.4 million in taxes. Seventy percent of Westmoreland’s coal was used at that one unit. 

PacifiCorp, which owns Rocky Mountain Power, is in the beginning stages of retiring some of its coal plants in Wyoming. Connelly said that converting the power plants to natural gas is the logical thing to do as alternative power such as wind and solar cannot be built fast enough to cover the needs of the consumers — and it comes at a higher price. Rate payers shouldn’t have to pay more for the alternative power, Connelly said. 

State lawmakers across the western United States are attempting to respond to the market transition away from coal. Wyoming’s response has been to pass Senate File 159, which Gov. Mark Gordon signed into law in March. The law directs utilities to attempt to find new buyers for coal plants before retiring them and they must propose replacement generation.

Utilities would only be allowed to recover the costs of building new power plants to replace retiring coal generators if they first attempt to sell the closing facilities. If a buyer is found, the law directs utilities to buy power from the plants back from the purchaser.

Connelly said he will testify today, Aug. 1, at a public hearing in Cheyenne held by the Public Service Commission.


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