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Transmission & Streaming Disruptions

PacifiCorp eyes renewables as it plans to stop burning coal at most of its Wyoming plants

Windmill in the sagebrush.

Wyoming’s largest power company is shifting toward renewables and away from coal; however, the state is still planning a future that includes fossil fuels.

PacifiCorp, also known as Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming, released its Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) late last week. It is a 20-year look at the future, and shows that the company’s future energy sources will largely be wind, solar and possibly nuclear. The electric company serves about 144,000 customers in Wyoming, in addition to nearly 2 million in Utah, Idaho, California, Oregon and Washington.

The future of coal is dwindling for the company. PacifiCorp will shutter or convert to natural gas in 20 coal units in its six-state region by 2032.

“This is more than a vision for the future; it is our promise to the communities we serve — one we’re already delivering on, with steady progress toward ambitious targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and transitioning to cleaner energy sources,” according to the IRP.

In Wyoming, only two of PacifiCorp’s 11 coal units will burn coal past 2030. This includes Dave Johnston Plant’s unit 4 near Glenrock and Wyodak near Gillette. A few units will also be converted to natural gas near Rock Springs and Kemmerer. But, units at Jim Bridger near Rock Springs will close seven years earlier than initially thought, in 2030 rather than 2037.

“Well, this is a huge issue for Wyoming as a coal power generating state with an extreme sense of attempting to protect its economic footing through maintaining coal,” said David Romtvedt, chair of the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC).

Romtvedt said Wyoming and PacifiCorp will need to work with coal communities to help with this energy shift to prevent hundreds of job losses.

“If you're going to make these transitions, what are you going to do for communities that were dependent upon an older way? A way that now we think, ‘Oh, look, it might just be gone. No matter what you think politically. It might be gone for a number of economic and environmental reasons,’” Romtvedt said.

He added part of PRBRC’s mission is to work with coal communities to help with energy transitions and to represent the people affected. Romtvedt said that it is going to take a lot of collaboration from all stakeholders.

“All these parties have to be together, if you're going to have an economic transition that isn't simply a train wreck when it finally comes,” he said.

PacifiCorp plans to quadruple its wind and solar resources in its six-state region and take over a future nuclear plant in Kemmerer and possibly two more in Utah.

“The advanced nuclear resources that appear in the plan represent a promising future for our employees and communities in rural Utah and Wyoming,” said Rick Link, senior vice president of resource planning, procurement and optimization at PacifiCorp. “As we transition to a net-zero energy future, it is important to leverage the experience, skills and dedication of the communities that have supplied our energy needs for the past century.”

Meanwhile, Wyoming is keeping its sights on coal. A new law passed this year allows the state to sue anyone who negatively affects Wyoming’s coal production.

Additionally, Wyoming is moving forward with enforcing a 2020 law that requires public utilities in the state to incorporate some carbon capture technology retrofitted onto coal plants into their energy portfolio.

The hope is the technology would allow companies to still burn coal for electricity, but reduce emissions. Opponents say it is largely untested, and PacifiCorp has stated it will come at a high cost to Wyoming customers. In February, Wyoming ratepayers saw a hike on their utility bills called ‘carbon capture compliance’ that is being used to fund PacifiCorp’s research into whether implementing the law is even viable.

PacifiCorp has identified Dave Johnston Unit 4, which is one of the units that will burn coal past 2030, as a possible option for carbon capture. However, the company said it will come at a cost of about $850 million to Wyoming ratepayers.

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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