Wyoming’s consumer watchdog agency signed off on a major upgrade to the state’s biggest power plants despite the likelihood it will bring increased electricity rates for customers.
The Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate in testimony filed last week with the Wyoming Public Service Commission backed PacifiCorp’s proposal to install environmental controls on two of the company’s four power units at Jim Bridger Power Plant near Point of Rocks. The upgrades are needed to comply with emissions standards proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The office conducted an analysis of PacifiCorp’s options before submitting testimony to the commission. Bryce Freeman, the office’s administrator, said he considered options including the proposed upgrades, conversion to natural gas as a fuel source and full retirement of the two coal-burning units. The company’s proposal, he said, seems the most cost-effective plan for customers.
“It will raise rates, it’s just impossible to tell at this point how much that will be,” he said. “All the other alternatives would increase rates more.”
PacifiCorp subsidiary Rocky Mountain Power first proposed control technology upgrades to coal-burning units 3 and 4 of the Bridger plant — two generators capable of about 1,050 megawatts total — last August. Rocky Mountain Power is a utility which provides power to 136,000 customers in Wyoming.
Dave Eskelsen, a company spokesman, said via email that the upgrades “will allow Rocky Mountain Power to continue to supply low-cost electricity from Bridger plant to its customers.”
Eskelsen declined to estimate the project’s cost. The company submitted an estimated cost of the upgrades to the commission, but that document was granted confidential status by the PSC.
Freeman said he also analyzed other potential options for PacifiCorp’s including replacing the units’ generation with Wyoming wind power, but he settled on the proposed upgrades to the plant’s coal-fired units.
“If these plants are going to continue to run, they have to make the upgrades,” he said. “There’s no way around it.”
The consumer advocacy office isn’t the only party to file testimony regarding PacifiCorp’s proposal. The Power River Basin Resource Council, a Wyoming-based landowner group, and the Sierra Club have each asked to be involved in the proceedings.
Wyoming Industrial Energy Consumers, a customer-oriented group which regularly participates in public service commission hearings, has filed testimony claiming PacifiCorp has not sufficiently justified its proposal.
The Jim Bridger Power Plant is adjacent to the PacifiCorp-owned Jim Bridger coal mine, which annually produces about six million tons of coal for the plant. Another three million tons are imported from other Wyoming coal mines.
Both the plant and the mine are jointly owned by PacifiCorp and Idaho Power, with PacifiCorp holding a two-thirds stake in each. Units 3 and 4 were brought online in 1976 and 1979 respectively.
The project is expected to be heard by the commission March 26-28. If the commission approves PacifiCorp’s proposal, the company can authorize construction of the controls, which would likely take years to complete.