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Natrona County, Casper officials vote to protest Rocky Mountain Power rate hike

Natrona County and the city of Casper haven’t been turned on much by Rocky Mountain Power’s performance, so both will protest the company’s proposed 17.3 percent rate hike.

County commissioners unanimously approved a resolution Tuesday authorizing County Attorney Bill Knight to file an intervention with the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

The Casper City Council also unanimously approved a similar measure at its Tuesday night regular meeting.

“The board of commissioners deems it in the best interest of Natrona County to oppose the application of Rocky Mountain Power to increase [its] retail service utility rates,” according to the resolution read by Knight.

That is, unless the company can promise it will enhance its service, he said.

Commissioner Terry Wingerter said he has friends who work for Rocky Mountain Power, but favors the protest.

“It’s like jabbing it to the public,” Wingerter said.

The company buys the power generated by Chevron Global Power Co.’s wind farm, sends it to California, and the county seems left out of the process, he said.

“I just don’t like how they’re getting consumers in Natrona County to pay for some of their past mistakes,” Wingerter said.

Commission Chairman Rob Hendry said Rocky Mountain Power jacked up its estimate of supplying power to the Townsend Justice Center by 500 percent from approximately $20,000 for a utility box to about $125,000 for a much larger fixture and work under the streets. “We had to upgrade downtown power to get power to the Townsend.”

Even worse, the company’s inability to set up transmission to the 700-acre Bishop Industrial Rail Park east of the Casper/Natrona County International Airport resulted in the loss of two or three businesses to Cheyenne, Hendry said.

City Council members approved the measure without discussion.

“We’re arguing ‘What are we getting out of the rate (increase)?” Ward 3 Councilman Paul Bertoglio said after the meeting. “The number of power outages, the service has just degraded over the years.”

Bertoglio added that the lack of infrastructure investment by Rocky Mountain Power could be viewed as negatively affecting the city’s growth and economic expansion.

The Salt Lake City-based company, a division of PacifiCorp, is Wyoming’s largest utility with more than 134,000 customers.

Rocky Mountain Power needs the rate hike to generate $97.9 million a year to meet customers’ demands, cover costs of coal and transmission lines, and to comply with environmental requirements, according to its Nov. 23 news release. If the PSC approves the application, the average household’s electric bill would rise by about $15 a month effective Sept. 22.

The Public Service Commission is accepting petitions to intervene in the case until Jan. 3.

Knight said the county, the city of Casper, and the other municipalities within the county will be filing their very similar if not identical petitions as early as today.

Participation in the intervention will require a lot of effort from the county, the city and the other municipalities, he said. “I’m hoping we’ll be able to work together to share that burden.”

The local governments intend to focus on Natrona County’s interests instead of the rate increase as a whole, which would require expertise in the complex issues such as the longterm price of coal, Knight said.

“We will concentrate more on what we’re getting out of it,” he said.

The county and municipalities want to know how Rocky Mountain Power’s improvements will reduce power outages, offer better service to businesses and help with economic development, Knight said.

He knows a petition to intervene requires more than a letter of protest, which the PSC’s chief legal counsel Chris Petrie underscored.

The Public Service Commission expects intervenors to participate in the filing advance testimony, the preliminary proceedings, and the hearings, Petrie said.

“The parties have quite a bit of influence,” he said.

However, intervenors’ involvement can vary, Petrie said.

“Some want to litigate every last bit of it,” he said. “Some intervenors will focus on one issue.”

Some intervenors bring in experts, who can be cross-examined by the applicant’s representatives, Petrie said.

Intervenors may work with each other in planning their strategies and testimonies, he said.

And some may withdraw from the application process if they agree with other intervenors that have expended more effort on the case, Petrie said.

Regardless of the level of participation, intervenors know Rocky Mountain Power will come well-prepared for its hearings, he said. “There’s a high degree of specialization in a company like this.”