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Lawmakers vote down ‘industrial power zones’ draft bill

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Wyoming lawmakers recently struck down a draft bill that would have loosened some regulations in the state’s electricity market over fears of risk to smaller consumers.

Members of the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development committee met last week in Casper. They discussed a bill that would have allowed commercial electricity customers in Wyoming to purchase their energy outside of the regulated utility market, but only in designated “industrial power zones” on state land. It was based on a similar bill that failed during the 2022 legislative session.

The idea is it would reduce power costs, and encourage new businesses, like bitcoin mining, that require a lot of energy.

Sen. Chris Rothfuss (D-Laramie) spoke in favor of the bill.

“It would be favorable to have a business model where you had either a direct purchase agreement or even had a power producer within the zone that could then directly sell to consumers within the zone by creating effectively an island of deregulation within the rest of the regulated utility structure,” Rothfuss said.

Electricity rates in these zones would only reflect the power the developer used, rather than including the costs to operate larger systems for thousands of customers.

But, there were also concerns. Anthony Ornelas, the Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate interim administrator, spoke to the committee during the public comment period.

“If some of our larger utilities decide to take on some of these potential new resources to serve these unregulated loads, and then they don't turn out as they planned, there's a fairly significant risk of stranded assets,” Ornelas said.

Ornelas said he feared that the other customers, like households and small businesses, would be on the hook for the costs.

The bill ultimately failed with seven opposed and six in favor.

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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