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Customers of Rocky Mountain Power will see their bills increase in February 

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Customers of Rocky Mountain Power can expect their utility rates to go up in February. The Wyoming Public Service Commission (WPSC) approved the utility’s 0.3 percent rate hike.

Per state law, Rocky Mountain Power is required to retrofit some of its coal powered plants with carbon capture technology. How many units and how exactly it will be implemented is still unknown – that is still being deliberated between lawmakers and industry leaders.

So, Rocky Mountain Power hopes to use the extra money from customers to research this. WPSC Chairman Chris Petrie said that is appropriate.

“Considering the likely prudent expenses to be incurred and perhaps already incurred by the company to comply with the statutes that were created by House Bill 200 (HB200),” Petrie said.

HB200 being the 2020 law that mandates this conversion. 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. WPSC 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 in October, 2022.

“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, back at a WPSC meeting in October.

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 the expenses will come down to the 140,000 Wyoming ratepayers – starting with the 0.3 percent rate hike in February.

However, others have expressed concern that the charges to customers are too premature, as the technology has not been implemented yet.

“Rocky Mountain Power is able to kind of pass on costs to customers long before something is actually in service to customers, which is pretty unusual, and it’s not something we typically do in Wyoming,” Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the Powder River Basin Resource Council, told the Casper Star Tribune. “It’ll be like an extra tax, basically.”

The new charge will be called ‘carbon capture compliance’ on people’s utility bills. HB200 mandates that the additional charges to customers have to be capped at two percent total.

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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