March 9, 2020

Rocky Mountain Power seeks rate increase

By Camille Erickson | Casper Star-Tribune Via Wyoming News Exchange | Mar 5, 2020 |

CASPER – Wyoming’s leading utility filed an application with the state’s Public Service Commission on Monday to adjust its energy prices starting next year.

If the commission approves Rocky Mountain Power’s proposal, the utility will decrease electric rates for industrial customers by 0.8 percent but increase rates for the average residential customer by about $3.69 per month. The publicly regulated utility has not requested a rate increase in Wyoming in five years.

Rocky Mountain Power provides power to 146,000 residents in Wyoming at rates about 34 percent below the national average, according to the company.

“Wyoming enjoys some of the most reliable and affordable power anywhere, making the state a very attractive destination for companies looking for a competitive advantage,” said Gary Hoogeveen, Rocky Mountain Power president and CEO. “Our future plans will continue to provide Wyoming with a competitive edge and the right plan and strategy to achieve the best outcomes for our Wyoming customers.”

The overall 1.1 percent rate hike proposed by the company would generate $7.1 million to support new wind energy projects and transmission lines, among other investments in Wyoming as part of its Energy Vision 2020 – a renewable energy initiative launched in 2017.

As part of the Energy Plan 2020, the utility’s TB Flats, Ekola Flats and Cedar Springs wind energy projects will come into service by the end of 2020. These additions will equip the state with an additional 1,150 megawatts in wind generation capacity by the end of this year.

The company anticipates projects built as part of the Energy Vision 2020 initiative will also produce about $11 million in property tax annually starting as soon as next year, according to the company. On top of that, Rocky Mountain Power will be responsible for paying approximately $3 to $4 million in wind taxes each year.

Utility companies saddled with the mandate to keep electricity reliable and prices low for consumers have been attracted to the increasing cost effectiveness of renewable energy.

In October, PacifiCorp, Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, submitted a new integrated resource plan to the state. The plan outlines the company’s energy plan several years into the future, based on months of extensive analysis and modeling.

This biennial plan slated two-thirds of the company’s thermal coal units spread across multiple states for retirement by 2030. The company emphasized the need to transition away from coalfired power plants for the interest of saving ratepayers substantial costs down the road. As a result, PacifiCorp proposed shuttering numerous coal units in the Equality State, starting with Jim Bridger’s unit 1, near Rock Springs, in 2023.

Wyoming’s plethora of coal plants have provided electricity to the western grid for decades, but low natural gas prices and competitive renewable energy sources have outpaced coal in their cost effectiveness.

According to PacifiCorp’s 2019 plan, the utility aims to install over 3,500 megawatts of wind generation capacity over the next three years, much of that destined for Wyoming.

But the new plan has not sat well with a majority of Wyoming lawmakers who have seen it as an attack on the state’s robust coal industry. The Public Service Commission launched an investigation into the company’s integrated resource plan on Nov. 13, an action backed by Gov. Mark Gordon. The investigation is ongoing.

As part of Monday’s rate filing, Rocky Mountain Power also updated the commission on its transition of unit 3 of the Naughton coalfired power plant to a natural gas plant. In addition it will retire unit 4 of its Cholla Power Plant in Arizona. The cost of decommissioning the unit at the Cholla facility adds up to $47.3 million, with about $6.9 million of that amount apportioned to Wyoming.

If the public commissioners endorse the recent rate filing, customers could expect price changes to take effect on Jan. 1.

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