By David Martin
Green River Star
Via Wyoming News Exchange
GREEN RIVER — An updated analysis conducted by Rocky Mountain Power suggests it would lower costs for customers if it sped up the retirement of four power-generating units in Southwest Wyoming, including two units at the Jim Bridger Power Plant.
The other two units are at the Naughton Plant in Lincoln County.
However, while the company’s Integrated Resource Plan recommends early closure for the four units, RMP doesn’t have a plan in place.
“We don’t know the plan of what we’re going to do,” RMP President and CEO Gary Hoogeveen told a group of officials representing Rock Springs, Sweetwater County and the state Wednesday.
The company will produce a plan to handle the possible closures Aug. 1.
The IRP looked at RMP’s 22 coal-fired plants to determine if savings could be found if units could be closed as early as 2022. It also analyzed the difference between specific coal units and newer resources and energy conservation. The plan is updated every two years, studying the best resource mix to provide customers with reliable access to electricity for a 20-year period. According to Hoogeveen, customers would save approximately $248 million if the company sped up retirement plans for the four units. RMP plans to study other factors related to the retirements, including how employees and the communities would be impacted.
Hoogeveen said the retirements would likely be staggered, with the first occurring in 2022, but said other unit closures could take place between 2022 and 2028 potentially.
According to Senior Vice-President of Thermal Generation and Mining, Dana Ralston, the company is not sure how many employees the closures would impact. If the unit retirements were staggered out, he believes RMP could avoid layoffs by adjusting staffing levels at Jim Bridger and eliminating positions through attrition. He admits that goal would be much more difficult if the units were retired at the same time. However, with only two units planned for operation into the 2030s, Ralson also said it would be difficult to maintain both the mine at Bridger and Black Butte. The Jim Bridger surface mine is tenatively scheduled to close operations in 2028.
For the Jim Bridger Power Plant, the plant is expected to reach the end of its lifespan in 2037, while the Noughton Plant’s lifespan anticipated to end in 2027.
While many would blame politics as the reason RMP is looking to retire the units early, Hoogeveen said the decision comes purely at an economic level. He said the public service commissions RMP answers to mandates the company provide electricity at the lowest cost, while being reliable to customers. More focus in wind and solar generation, including RMP’s investment in wind turbines, have made renewable sources of power cheaper to produce.
Hoogeveen also claimed the savings the company receives through renewable energy tax credits or through cutting units in Wyoming don’t go to RMP’s shareholders or its parent company, Berkshire Hathaway.
The cost of retrofitting coal plants with the latest emissions technology have made coal power generation more expensive. The two units reviewed in the IRP are the older units at Jim Bridger. The cost to retrofit the units with current emissions technology would not be economical, according to company officials. The cost to convert the units to using natural gas would also be costly, especially as infrastructure tying the plant to natural gas lines would be needed. However, with units three and four at Jim Bridger being what Hoogeveen described as the most technologically advanced in the nation in regards to emissions controls, he said he sees a long life for the Jim Bridger Power Plant.
The company plans to host monthly meetings updating residents on their progress until Aug. 1, when it releases its unit retirement plan. Rick Link, Pacificorp vice-president of resource planning and aquisitions said residents can submit public comments on its IRP through the RMP website. While he admits this isn't the greatest news for the community, Hoogeveen said the recommendation does not mean everything is finalized in regards to the four units.
"We’re going to continue to talk about it,” Hoogeveen said, “This is not done.”