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PacifiCorp says carbon capture technology would come at high cost to customers, but others disagree

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One of Wyoming’s main electricity providers says following state law could come at a huge cost to customers.

Pacificorp, also known as Rocky Mountain Power, recently testified to the Wyoming Public Service Commission regarding a 2020 state law that requires public utilities to begin incorporating some carbon capture technology at their coal-fired plants. Some see carbon capture as a way to meet climate goals, while still using coal.

Since the law was passed, the main public utility companies in Wyoming, PacifiCorp and Black Hills Energy, have been studying the logistics and viability of implementing the technology. The commission was tasked by the legislature to review all the proposals and set specific standards for the law.

PacifiCorp found that the carbon technology would work best at three of its coal units – Dave Johnson Unit 4 and Jim Bridger Units 3 and 4. However, the company said at this time, implementing any carbon capture technology is not economically viable, which is similar to the testimony that Black Hills Energy presented earlier in October.

“We prefer low cost, low risk. We want to keep impacts to our customers at a minimum,” said James Owen, vice president of environmental fuels and mining for PacifiCorp.

Installing the technology could come at a high cost to Wyoming customers, because they would have to help absorb the transition costs that could be as high as $1 billion per unit. Currently, PacifiCorp is a six-state system, meaning customers in all states share the costs of generating electricity; however, with carbon capture, not all of the other states are willing to help foot the bill. PacifiCorp testified that Utah likely would not help with costs, which eliminates 40 percent of the company’s customer base. So since the technology is being mandated in Wyoming it could come down on the 140,000 Wyoming ratepayers.

Additionally, PacifiCorp said it could reduce reliability of the plants by 25 percent because carbon capture requires a lot of extra energy to operate.

But Glenrock Energy, a Wyoming oil company, argued carbon capture is viable and that Glenrock could absorb some of the additional costs from utility customers. Glenrock testified that it would fund the cost at one of Pacificorp’s units, as the captured carbon can be used to extract more oil. Terrence Manning, the CEO of Glenrock, said in this case, utility customers would not have to foot the bill.

“Glenrock’s proposal has never involved the ratepayers of Wyoming ever being assessed $1 of the capital and the operational and maintenance costs, the pipeline transportation costs, the enhanced oil recovery costs or the geological sequestration costs associated with the implementation of a carbon capture facility at the Dave Johnson facility,” Manning said.

PacifiCorp stressed that the company is not opposed to carbon capture if the economics make more sense in the future. As of now, Owens said coal is volatile and is not the primary source of energy for the company, rather they depend on renewables first.

“When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, and those renewable resources decrease, then we ramp our (coal-fired) plant back up,” he said. “So essentially, the coal fleet follows the renewable load.”

Additionally, PacifiCorp is focusing on the TerraPower nuclear power plant in Kemmerer. PacifiCorp plans to take ownership of the plant when it is fully operational. It is set to go online in 2028.

PacifiCorp is asking the commission to extend the deadline for its final report on carbon capture implementation from March 2023 to 2024, and in the interim to set the portfolio standard for coal produced from a carbon capture facility at 0 percent. The commission will deliberate over the coming weeks.

Caitlin Tan is the Energy and Natural Resources reporter based in Sublette County, Wyoming. Since graduating from the University of Wyoming in 2017, she’s reported on salmon in Alaska, folkways in Appalachia and helped produce 'All Things Considered' in Washington D.C. She formerly co-hosted the podcast ‘Inside Appalachia.' You can typically find her outside in the mountains with her two dogs.
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