Wyo. utility starts ‘orderly transition away from coal’ 

Source: Krysti Shallenberger, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, June 15, 2015

Rocky Mountain Power’s new vision for its resource power mix includes a lot less coal.

The utility’s new 500-page integrated resource plan maps out RMP’s vision of how to serve its 1.8 million customers in six states — the majority of whom live in coal-heavy Utah and Wyoming alongside fellow Western state Idaho.

Regulatory uncertainty along with market trends favoring natural gas and renewables spurred the utility, a subsidiary of the Berkshire Hathaway-owned PacifiCorp, to pare down its coal usage. It’s unlikely Rocky Mountain Power will replace any of the coal-fired power set to retire by the 2020s with more coal plants, according to the plan.

Rocky Mountain Power is poised to retire several of its Wyoming and Arizona units by the 2020s and convert one plant in Wyoming to natural gas as the power plants reach their “depreciation” point — or the end of their life. That totals 2,800 megawatts of generation capacity; Rocky Mountain Power already shut down its Carbon plant in Utah earlier this year.

“One of the ways our industry is changing is a gradual, orderly transition away from coal to produce electricity,” said CEO Cindy Crane in a statement. “In recent years, the company has built new natural gas plants and wind power projects and expanded energy efficiency programs. As a result, the [integrated resource plan] does not see the need to build a new power plant of any type in the next 10 years.”

Diminishing customer demand has also stifled any plans to build more power plants.

Dave Eskelsen, spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, said the company’s move was “a reaction to the kinds of state and federal environmental requirements that we see happening” colliding with older power plants approaching their end.

Both Eskelsen and Robert Godby, a University of Wyoming economics professor, said the move won’t dent jobs in Wyoming’s coal mines. Rather, the job losses will occur as power plants close.

Godby, who co-wrote a recently published economic study spelling out coal’s future in Wyoming, said the move isn’t a surprise.

“The cost of natural gas is cheap. … The cost of renewables is falling all the time, and on top of that, demand growth hasn’t been growing at the same rate,” Godby told EnergyWire. “It makes the case for coal more competitive, and on top of that, you have regulatory uncertainty. … Maybe that’s the final nail in the coffin.”

RMP’s power mix is 60 percent coal, 14 percent natural gas and 9 percent renewables — namely, wind and solar. But the company envisions its 2025 portfolio to have a 50 percent mix of coal blended in with more natural gas and renewables, Eskelsen said.

A handful of federal regulations designed to tackle air quality and greenhouse gases also played a hand in RMP’s dwindling coal use. Most notably, U.S. EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan could speed up closing Wyoming’s coal-fired power plants in a regional bid to clean up the air since those plants also power neighboring states (EnergyWire, March 30).