Bill Tabled That Sought To Beef Up PSC Oversight Facing Early Coal Plant Closures

Nov 20, 2019

Naughton Power Plant; Rocky Mountain Power's coal-fired power plant looking at early unit closures
Credit Pacificorp

Wyoming's Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee tabled a bill that would have changed how the Public Service Commission (PSC) oversees coal-fired power plants that are closing early. The bill considered requiring the PSC to consider socioeconomic factors, reliability impacts and any other information deemed necessary when looking at early retirement.

If a utility provided notice of its early plant closures, the bill also would have required it to engage in transition and financial assistance for employees and place a full deposit for the cost of reclamation and decommissioning the plant.

The bill stems from an earlier discussion from the Joint Minerals, Business and Economic Development Committee. Legislators questioned the PSC on what it could do about Rocky Mountain Power's latest integrated resource plan (IRP), which plans to close units at two Wyoming coal-fired power plants early.

Ranchester Sen. Bo Biteman asked the commission if they could simply reject Rocky Mountain Power's IRP. PSC Chief Counsel Chris Petrie said the commission can conduct public comment, review, and scrutinize a utilities plan, but it can't approve or disapprove.

"What's the point of having a regulated utility, if the regulators are going to allow the utility that's protected from competition to close reliable, cheap, affordable energy power plants, raise the rates on our taxpayers and put our taxpayers out of work?" Biteman said.

Rocky Mountain Power's Jon Cox said this bill isn't all negative. He said the conversation has felt focused on RMP, but that it makes sense.

"It's a little different than a utility in the Midwest using PRB coal that decides to shut down. There's not as many tools for the legislature [and] the PSC to try to address that situation. In our case, it's different," he said.

At the Corporations Committee hearing, the response to the bill was mostly negative. A representative with Gov. Mark Gordon's office said the focus should be on implementing SF 159, a bill prompting utilities retire coal plants early to find a buyer.

Mary Throne, deputy chair of the Public Service Commission, said the bill would certainly expand the role of the PSC, adding that community assistance is not in their wheelhouse.

"We're not comfortable with doling out transition assistance," she said. "That's not our expertise."

Lander Sen. Cale Case called the bill a weak and thrown together amalgamation that would be better dealt with by the Department of Workforce Services. He encouraged the bill to be table, saying it could take up a lot of air in the upcoming budget session.

The bill is dead for now but could come up again during the next interim session.

Have a question about this story? Contact the reporter, Cooper McKim, at cmckim5@uwyo.edu.