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Wind Energy

A pumpjack is seen in front of several wind turbines outside of Rolling Hills Wednesday, Oct. 4, 2017. Rocky Mountain Power reached a deal with state legislators on Thursday to invest $2 billion in Wyoming wind power.

Josh Galemore, Star-Tribune

Rocky Mountain Power’s plan to invest $2 billion in Wyoming wind took a step forward Thursday in a deal reached with state regulators.

Wyoming’s largest utility dropped a 161-megawatt wind farm in Uinta County from its plans after a week-long hearing before the Wyoming Public Service Commission, but the company will nonetheless increase its parent company PacifiCorp’s wind footprint by about 60 percent as a result of its proposals in Wyoming, the company said in statement.

Rocky Mountain Power still gets most of its power from coal, but it went public with its plan to build new wind and transmission in Wyoming last year, part of strategy to take advantage of federal tax subsidies for wind before they sunset in 2020.

Because of that tax boon, the company argues that the increase in wind power will benefit customers’ pockets over time.

“Rocky Mountain Power customers continue to have some of the lowest electricity rates in the country,” said Cindy Crane, president and CEO of the company in a statement Friday. “This proposed settlement will reduce those rates even more.”

The proposed wind build-out agreed upon Thursday is comprised of three new wind farms totaling 1,150 megawatts of potential power and a 140-mile high-voltage transmission line across central Wyoming. The company’s plan to upgrade its existing wind farms is being considered separate from Thursday’s approval.

The three new wind farms will be Ekola Flats, a 250-megawatt proposal in Carbon County; TB Flats I and II, a 500-megwatt farm in Carbon County and potentially Albany County; and Cedar Springs, a 400-megawatt farm proposed in Converse County.

A number of groups had reservations about RMP’s plan and asked state regulators to verify that the new wind was necessary to meet customer demand and wouldn’t add up to an additional cost on the consumer. Those intervenors included the Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate and the Wyoming Industrial Energy Consumers. A private ranch, the Rocky Mountain Sheep Company had protested part of the proposal. All parties either withdrew from the case or reached agreement during the hearing except the sheep ranch.

Any potential impact that the new build-out will have on customer power cost would be decided later. Utility requests to increase rates have to be approved by the Wyoming Public Service Commission, said the commissions’ lawyer Christopher Petrie.

Rocky Mountain Power will still have a number of hurdles to clear in order to get to work. Right-of-way permission must be gained in the impacted areas and additional permits are required in Wyoming. Other states where the utility operates also have to approve the new power and transmission, including Utah, Oregon and Idaho.

Follow energy reporter Heather Richards on Twitter @hroxaner

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Energy Reporter

Heather Richards writes about energy and the environment. A native of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, she moved to Wyoming in 2015 to cover natural resources and government in Buffalo. Heather joined the Star Tribune later that year.

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