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Controversy over upgrades at Jim Bridger highlights coal's uncertain future

The Idaho Public Utilities Commission conditionally approved a request from Idaho Power to upgrade the Jim Bridger Power Plant in Rock Springs, Wyoming.

The upgrades will reduce nitrous oxide emissions from the plant, but some environmental groups say the $130 million investment isn’t cost-effective because stricter regulation of coal-fired power is likely in the near future.

The Commission acknowledged the uncertain future of coal-fired power, and didn’t guarantee that the company will be able to use rate increases to cover the full cost of the upgrades, but Commission spokesman Gene Fadness says alternatives simply weren't available.

“There were in fact nine scenarios where they came up with nine different possibilities," Fadness says. "And the upgrades, according to Idaho Power’s study of those nine scenarios, was the least-cost and least-risk to customers.”

The Commission will require quarterly reports comparing the cost-effectiveness of the upgrades to alternative technologies.

“And that would at least give us and the utility flexibility to pull out or come up with other options if it did seem like the cost of environmental regulation outweighed the advantage to customers,” Fadness says.

The upgrades have to be completed by 2016 in order for the plant to comply with Wyoming’s new regional haze plan.

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