Locals attend PacifiCorp IRP meeting in Utah

COURTESY PHOTO

The Naughton power plant is owned and operated by PacifiCorp. Unit 3 of the plant just shut down despite an earlier plan to convert it to natural gas proved too costly to the company.  

Rocky Mountain Power/PacifiCorp continues to conduct a coal analysis study and its biennial Integrated Resource Plan. Last weekend, the company held a stakeholder public comment meeting in Salt Lake City, Utah, to discuss its most recent Integrated Resource Plan, and community members voiced their concerns.

Several locals attended the meeting, including the mayors and some members from the Diamondville and Kemmerer councils and Wyoming state Rep. Tom Crank (House District 18 - Lincoln, Sweetwater, Uinta). A group from the UMWA local chapter also attended.

The Integrated Resource Plan is updated every two years, although the utility company conducts energy resource management studies every year, and also creates 20-year plans. A portion of the study that was presented at a public input meeting in December, revealed that 13 of Rocky Mountain Power’s 22 coal units (including Naughton) may be more expensive to operate than to shut down or completely replace with renewable energy alternatives.

Rep. Crank said that community members did get to speak up at the meeting, but there are still many unknowns regarding what the coal study will mean for the Kemmerer-Diamondville community. He said he is concerned that PacifiCorp would first be finishing up the technical portion of the study and then start an in-depth examination of the potential social and economic effects.

“Rocky Mountain Power acknowledged that they hadn’t communicated well with these communities,” Crank told the Gazette. “But when you see what this huge company is proposing, and your community is around 3,000, you don’t feel too good coming in at the end saying, ‘Did you think of us?’”

Unit 3 at the Naughton Power plant will be shut down in the next few days, as PacifiCorp decided in 2016 that shutting down the unit would be cheaper than the original plan of converting it to natural gas. The Integrated Resource Plan aims to address the future of the other two units and the plant as a whole.

The Kemmerer council discussed the IRP public comment session at the city council meeting on Monday, Jan. 28. The City of Kemmerer submitted questions on Rocky Mountain Power’s website on Jan. 16 about the coal analysis. PacifiCorp has received far more questions from the public about its 2019 IRP than the 2017 IRP.

As of press time, PacifiCorp had not responded to the city’s submissions, which included questions about if the company had plans to develop renewable energy projects in Wyoming and what a potential future loss of subsidies for wind and solar energy would mean for consumers’ energy bills.

“I think at this point, PacifiCorp knows where they want to get by 2023 or 2038, but I don’t know where we fit into that, and I don’t think they know either,” said Kemmerer mayor Tony Tomassi at the council meeting. “But Wyoming is paying attention.”

Rocky Mountain Power is aiming to finish coal analysis and submit the IRP to the Wyoming Public Service Commission by August 1 of this year. The IRP filing date was originally slated for April 1, but PacifiCorp stated they needed to continue the coal study analysis and hear from stakeholders.

“We’re still scratching our heads about some of it,” said councilman Dave McGinnis of the public comment meeting. “This has moved very fast, but I think (PacifiCorp) is beginning to realize they need to communicate with the cities, and counties that would be affected.”

Rep. Crank echoed some locals’ concerns about what shutting down the plant would mean in regards to keeping up the energy grid. He said the utility company is facing pressure by other states to convert to renewable energy for its customers.

“As far as the storage for these other resources, does that tech exist at the size they need it to?” Crank posed.

Tomassi said at the council meeting that the new Kemmerer city administrator’s “first item on the table” would be addressing these issues of the future of energy for the city.

“We’ll continue to go to these meetings,” Tomassi said. “Rocky Mountain Power will also be presenting at the WAM (Wyoming Association of Municipalities) conference soon, so we’ll see what they say then.”

The next stakeholder meeting will be held on Feb. 21 and 22, and Rocky Mountain Power will hold meetings each month until the analysis and plan is completed.