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First day of hearing kicks off for Rocky Mountain Power rate hikes

Rocky Mountain Power

About 75 listened in and more came in person for the first day of the Wyoming Public Service Commission’s (WPSC) hearing on a huge rate hike proposal from the largest public utility in Wyoming.

Wed., Oct. 25, marked the first of likely an eight day hearing for an issue that’s highly controversial amongst Wyomingites and also quite complicated. In fact, there are 37 issues at hand – all related to the potential rate increases proposed by Rocky Mountain Power.

The company is a division of billionaire Warren Buffet’s PacifiCorp and is proposing a 21.6 percent rate hike, a $140.2 million overall increase, to its 144,000 Wyoming customers. That’s on top of a smaller increase from this summer that has been implemented, but not yet finalized by the WPSC. In total, this would mean almost a 30 percent rate hike or about $20 more per month for the average Wyoming customer starting in 2024. Those who oppose the increase say it could be much more.

WPSC is the state entity that regulates public utilities and is tasked with approving this 21.6 percent proposal. The other rate hike from this summer will be deliberated later this year.

Rocky Mountain Power insists the rate hikes are due to the volatility of fossil fuel prices. Coal is becoming more expensive to produce and gas prices are unpredictable because of extreme weather associated with climate change – which is costing the company a lot of money.

“These market forces driving higher power costs are largely outside of the company's control, and reflect broader market dynamics and resource supply issues across the region,” said the company’s Adam Lowney at the hearing.

But many lawmakers and residents question this, both at the Wednesday hearing and at the five WPSC public testimonies held this summer about the issue. They think it’s really because of the utility’s investments in renewable energy.

In its Integrated Resource Plan released last spring, PacifiCorp, which Rocky Mountain Power is part of, signaled a dramatic shift from coal-fired power across its six-state operating region – with plans to close all but two of its 11 coal-fired units in Wyoming by 2030. Additionally, PacifiCorp plans to quadruple its solar and wind power resources by 2032 and eventually hopes to take over TerraPower’s nuclear power facility sometime in 2030.

“So we're changing the way we deliver electricity in the country, and it has implications,” said Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), one of the five people or groups challenging Rocky Mountain Power. “It's important to move to a low carbon future, but it has huge implications as to the cost of providing electric service that's more entwined with this case that anybody really wants to address.”

At the hearing, Rocky Mountain Power’s Adam Lowney pushed back.

“While the company can understand perceptions that the rate increase here is driven by policies that are at odds with Wyoming. That is simply not the case,” he said.

Lowney added that had the company not invested in renewables, the rate hike would be even higher.

“In fact, without the company's renewable investments, 2024 net power costs would have been at $85.4 million higher,” he said.

The rate hike has received unprecedented criticism from all sorts of groups, including residents, elected officials, AARP, Wyoming Industrial Energy Consumers, Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate, Sierra Club and Walmart – the last four also being challengers in the case.

“Folks who were dealing with hyperinflation, folks are dealing with how they're going to pay for increases in gas prices in the cost of healthcare and the cost of medicine, the cost of groceries, the cost of property taxes are now being faced with a 30 percent increase in their power bills,” said

AARP’s Sam Shumway.

The hearing is expected to go through next week. After which, the WPSC will consider and then publicly deliberate in the coming weeks. The commission will make a final decision by the end of the year.

To attend the meeting remotely, click here. The hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. every weekday through next week and the public comment portion is at 11 a.m every weekday.

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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