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Utility Prefers Options That Include Early Closures of Wyoming Coal Plant Units

The five preferred scenarios. Higher numbers within the parentheses stand for larger consumer savings over the life of the IRP

Pacificorp held another public input meeting on its 2019 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) in Salt Lake City this week. The IRP goes through over 50 potential models to decide its energy portfolio for the near future. The utility provides power across the west including Wyoming.

Pacificorp has whittled down its preferred choices to five scenarios, which would all impact Wyoming plant retirements. Four of the five scenarios would close two of three units from Kemmerer's Naughton Plant early in 2025. All five would convert the last unit there to gas. All scenarios would also mean early retirement for part of the Jim Bridger plant near Rock Springs.

Pacificorp held its last presentation in May where several scenarios listed Naughton unit retirements even earlier: in 2022. Kemmerer Mayor Tony Tomassi said in a previous story that early closure of the plant would mean the loss of 126 jobs and others connected to it.

Pacificorp's conversation about early coal unit retirement came in December 2018 when the utility announced it would be cheaper to switch to renewables or gas than run over half of its coal plants.

The five scenarios chosen would all have the largest cost savings to customers while maintaining reliability, according to company spokesman Dave Eskelsen. He said the preferred scenarios are important, but there's still analysis to be done before the next meeting in October.

"I think it is meaningful to look at those five best-performing model runs and that gives a pretty good indication of where our analysis is going but nothing is certain." Eskelsen said, "The analysis they'll be doing in the next month will be extremely important as far as which scenario we'll select."

That includes additional risk assessment plus discussion of front-office transactions, which Eskelsen said are no small consideration.

The updated models presented this week differ from previous presentations due to added components. That includes corrected mine reclamation costs for Jim Bridger units. It also includes new transmission availability from its project Gateway South enabling additional wind energy.

Kemmerer's Naughton Plant

Brian Muir, Kemmerer city administrator, said he would be happier with the Naughton plant looking at a 2029 retirement at the earliest.

"We would much rather pursue, in the long term, a way to take it to what we call the 'next generation of coal-fired plants,' which I think is something that we should be doing nationwide," Muir said. That could mean coal gasification or installing CCUS (carbon capture, utilization, and storage) technology.

He said even a 2029 retirement date for the plant would give the town more time to explore diversification options. All of the scenarios have one of three Naughton units converted to gas. Muir said that would not provide nearly the same level of jobs.

Muir pointed to SF 159 or "New Opportunities For Wyoming Coal-Fired Generation" as a potential alternative to early retirement. Passed last year, the bill has utilities attempt to sell coal-fired plants before retiring them.

"There are legitimate potential buyers for the power plant and we're going to try to create a system for them to have a legitimate chance to make this work for them," Muir said.

Next Steps

The next public input meeting will take place on October 3 and 4. The final Integrated Resource Plan will be chosen on October 18. Eskelsen said no IRP is set in stone calling it a "rolling forward plan." The plan is completely rewritten every other year.

Before Wyoming, Cooper McKim has reported for NPR stations in Connecticut, Massachusetts, and South Carolina. He's reported breaking news segments and features for several national NPR news programs. Cooper is the host of the limited podcast series Carbon Valley. Cooper studied Environmental Policy and Music. He's an avid jazz piano player, backpacker, and podcast listener.
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