Bills aimed at protecting Wyoming's coal plants from early retirement come closer to becoming law

April 6, 2021

A bill that was written with the intention of slowing the early retirement of aging coal or natural gas plants in Wyoming cleared the Senate last week. It already passed the House on March 22.

If passed into law, House Bill 166 would require public utilities to take additional steps before they can retire aging coal or natural gas plants in the state.

Critics of the bill worry it will hike up electricity costs for Wyoming ratepayers. The Public Service Commission — the state agency charged with regulating public utilities — would not have the authority to OK fossil fuel plant closures unless a plant owner can provide a sufficient level of proof in support of the retirement.

“It gives the (Public Service Commission) a couple more tools in the toolbox or arrows in the quiver,” Rep. Steve Harshman, R-Casper, said.

The Casper Star Tribune reported that before bringing the bill to the Senate floor, lawmakers proposed several amendments. That included adopting language from another bill also aimed at safeguarding Wyoming’s coal resources to keep electricity supplies reliable, House Bill 155. The amendment will make state regulators weigh the potential effect a coal or natural gas plant closure could have on power reliability for Wyoming residents.

“Before authorizing or approving the retirement of an electric generation facility, (...) the commission shall consider the effect on available reliable, dispatchable electricity to Wyoming customers and the impact that any shortage of available energy nationwide may have on Wyoming customers,” according to the bill sent to the floor.

The other bill, House Bill 155, was then tabled. Wyoming’s governor backed both bills, saying they would help the state’s effort to expand carbon capture, sequestration and utilization, or CCUS.

“We share your frustrations that public utilities have not committed to CCUS as part of their (resource plans),” said Randall Luthi, chief energy adviser for Gov. Mark Gordon. He added both proposals could help advance the technological developments.

“It’s the governor’s ultimate goal to keep (carbon capture) moving forward and that our electric grid remains reliable and provides 24-hour dispatchable power,” he said.

In addition to House Bill 166, lawmakers have passed a bill to provide the governor with $1.2 million to sue other states interfering with Wyoming’s coal industry.

Another bill requiring state regulators to weigh reliability and socioeconomic consequences before rendering decisions also passed the Legislature.

Proponents of the package of coal legislation say they want to defend Wyoming’s coal fleet to ensure the electricity grid remains reliable for years to come.

Many of the proposed bills seek to ensure Wyoming’s power grid maintains a source of continuously available electricity supply, like coal, especially as companies invest more in renewable energy.

 

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