PacifiCorp considers costs savings from retirements of coal-fired plants

September 10, 2019

PacifiCorp, the largest utility in Wyoming, presented several draft power plans to the state that painted a bleak picture for the state’s coal industry, an industry that is already struggling with dwindling demand and bankruptcy filings by a number of coal mine operators.

In public meetings in Portland and Salt Lake City, PacifiCorp unveiled 30 business options or portfolios it will use to build its Integrated Resource Plan — the mix of sources from which it will deliver power to customers — in October. That plan will guide the utility, and determine the fate of its 25 power-generating units.

A PacifiCorp analysis called “Portfolio 46” predicts the largest savings: $599 million achieved by mothballing the entire Jim Bridger Plant in 13 years, closing the Dave Johnston Plant near Glenrock in eight years and shuttering two units at the Naughton Plant near Kemmerer in six years, along with other changes.

“The preferred portfolio will almost certainly include Naughton Units 1 and 2 closing,” Rob Godby, an economist at the University of Wyoming who follows the regular PacifiCorp stakeholder meetings told the Casper Star Tribune. “They haven’t shown a scenario where that doesn’t happen. The question is: Will we also be seeing plans for additional units at the Bridger station closing? That’s the bad news.”

Some portfolios presented at the meeting estimated cost savings around $500 million, if certain Wyoming coal-fired power plants retired early. But additional testing is still needed to provide a more definitive portfolio for the state’s power plant retirements, the company said.

A team at PacifiCorp has been studying the changing energy market for months, however, comprehensive results will not be formally announced by the company until October. Spencer Hall, a spokesman for PacifiCorp noted that the findings could change depending on how additional tests unfold in the coming weeks.

“It’s a continuing process with stakeholders that we’ve had going for more than a year at this point. We’ll have a preferred portfolio for the state and our service territory next month,” Hall told the Star-Tribune.

The results, outlined in an integrated resource plan, are collected every two years and updated annually. They could have big implications for Wyoming consumers relying on electric grids run by Rocky Mountain Power (a branch of PacifiCorp), not to mention the state’s miners employed at the company’s coal units.

Using the results, the company will craft a multi-year plan for its massive energy system with the goal of providing the lowest possible price for consumers and the most reliable grid. Striking that exact balance can be complicated. The company operates in six states, including Wyoming.
PacifiCorp delayed the release of its final plan twice this year after finding miscalculations in reclamation cost results associated with the Jim Bridger facility, among other errors. But the company affirmed last week it was on track to release its full plan, forecasting the economic viability of PacifiCorp’s 72 generating facilities, on Oct. 18.

Though the initial results came as grim news for residents dependent on the state’s coal industry, the plans could offer a possible silver lining for the state in the form of thousands of megawatts in new wind energy development on an accelerated time frame, Godby said.

About one-third of the company’s owned generating capacity already comes from wind, hydro and geothermal energy sources.


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