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Lawmakers eye further carbon capture requirements, but Rocky Mountain Power says it’ll cost ratepayers

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The Wyoming Senate recently passed a bill that supporters hope will save two Wyoming coal plants from closure, but some say it will ultimately be costly to Wyoming ratepayers.

Senate File 142 is 36 pages long and it took senate lawmakers multiple committee meetings and many hours to deliberate. In essence, the bill makes it more difficult for public utilities to close their coal plants, and it further pushes utilities to install carbon capture technology to keep the plants active. Some see carbon capture as a way to meet climate goals, while still using coal.

Dave Johnston in Glenrock is slated for closure by 2027 and Jim Bridger outside of Rock Springs will close by 2037. Both plants are operated by Rocky Mountain Power, which is the main opponent to the bill.

Richard Garlish, a Rocky Mountain Power vice president, said the company serves its customers first, which means dispatching the most reliable, least expensive electricity to customers. Garlish said this does not likely include carbon capture. He made the comparison of the coal plants to cars.

“We’re not talking about putting mud flaps on a car, we’re talking about putting a sophisticated turbocharger on a 50-year-old vehicle,” Garlish said.

He said it is easily a billion dollar project that will come at the cost to Wyoming ratepayers. Rocky Mountain Power serves six states, including Wyoming, and its costs to generate electricity are currently shared between all the customers. Garlish added that the other states will likely not be interested in bearing the burden of the accrued costs from the carbon capture project when there are other, cheaper forms of energy. Plus he said since it would be a Wyoming-specific law, it would fall on the shoulders of Wyoming ratepayers.

And this has alreadyhappened. This bill is attempting to build on legislation passed in prior years, which already mandates public utilities in Wyoming to make an effort to sell a coal plant prior to retirement and also require the utilities to incorporate some electricity generated from carbon capture outfitted coal plants into their energy portfolio. The latter has been the topic of Wyoming Public Service Commission (WPSC) meetings as of late, and Rocky Mountain Power and Black Hills Energy, the other main public utilities in the state, are currently researching how to accomplish this – and just how much it might cost.

Both companies suggest it also will come at a large cost for Wyoming customers due to reasons stated above. Just to pay for that research, Rocky Mountain Power has begun charging Wyoming customers an additional 0.3 percent fee this month.

In testimony, Garlish said the proposed bill could muddy the waters of the current law and at minimum cost Wyoming ratepayers more.

“I’ve been looking at the bill for two months – I don’t understand it. I don’t really know what it means for my customers. And now we’re going to amend it and put it in place,” he said. “I’m not sure what we’re doing, and I'm not sure what the amendments do to fix what we’re doing, and so that’s where the company is at.”

But, supporters of the bill maintain that it will keep coal alive and create a whole new industry of capturing and selling carbon to the private sector.

“It makes money for the private sector. I'm in favor of that,” said bill sponsor Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper). “It provides jobs for Wyoming people. I’m in favor of that. And it provides additional revenue to state and local governments from existing taxes and royalties. I'm in favor of that.”

Scott said the goal is for the carbon to be sold and used in nearby oil production, adding that over the next 20 years it could generate a billion dollars in tax revenue.

Scott said that the bill will only strengthen current law, and prevent the utility from ignoring the possibility of carbon capture. He emphasized on the Senate floor that the bill is time sensitive, given the impending coal plant closure dates.

“I think we either do it now, or we lose the power plant and it’s not worth proceeding in the future,” he said.

Despite what Rocky Mountain Power said, Scott insisted that the private sector, not ratepayers, would assume the costs of retrofitting the plants with carbon capture technology.

The public service commission originally testified some major concerns with the bill; however, after some amendments were adopted they said the bill is workable.

The bill passed the Senate and now moves onto the House.

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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