Idaho Utility Commits To 100% Renewable; Mountain West States Handle Coal Plant Decline Uniquely

Mar 27, 2019

A major utility in Idaho is committing to 100 percent clean energy by 2045. Idaho Power already finalized agreements to part ways with two coal-fired power plants and is still discussing breaking with a third in Wyoming. It owns one-third of the Jim Bridger plant and is working with Pacificorp and regulators to either reduce emissions or exit participation from the plant. It expects to import more clean energy from the Pacific Northwest.

"Not only is this goal meaningful to us, it's important to many of our customers, the communities we serve and the places we call home. Learn how we're moving forward - today, tomorrow and together," its press statement reads.

In 2018, utilities saw a shift away from coal at double the rate of the previous year. However, Wyoming and Montana are bucking that trend. In Wyoming, new legislation compels utilities to look for a new buyer before selling a plant. Devils Tower Senator Ogden Driskill said threats of early coal plant retirements came out of nowhere here.

"What we've got to do is find a way to phase out the coal over time," Driskill said. "And the big question is what do we do next to have our people stay gainfully employed and happy."

Coal generates significant revenue in Wyoming and Montana. Rob Godby, University of Wyoming energy economist, said the decision was reactionary and the potential early retirement news came out of nowhere.

"The reality forced itself on the state before the state was ready. I think the state was turning, you know, realizing this was coming, but it just happened too fast," he said.

Godby says the bill will likely act as a speed bump for utilities before retiring plants. Argus Media reported that Glenrock Petroleum may be interested in the Dave Johnston plant in Wyoming. It would use part of the plant for enhanced oil recovery purposes.

Pending legislation in Montana would incentivize one utility company there to keep producing from a coal plant in the eastern part of the state.

In Colorado, the utility XCEL committed last year to 100 percent clean energy by 2050. Legislation under consideration in that state would provide transition assistance to displaced workers in the coal industry. New Mexico recently passed its own bill to establish a fund for displaced workers.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.