All of us here in Wyoming need to be concerned about what’s happening before our State’s Public Service Commission in its investigation of the 2019 “Integrated Resource Plan” (the “2019 IRP”) submitted by Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, PacifiCorp. Reduced to essentials, the PacifiCorp proposal is to close its coal-fired power plants in Wyoming, replace them with wind and solar farms and build out new and upgraded transmission lines to deliver power to its customers, 85% of which are in states to the west of Wyoming. The proposed wind development alone would involve project areas encompassing roughly 500 square miles of our landscape.
Much to its credit, the Commission recognized last year that the change in PacifiCorp’s approach described in the 2019 IRP (a significant departure from its earlier IRPs), would have major implications for Wyoming’s economy, the livelihood of many of our citizens and the open space that sustains our wildlife, our sportsmen and the tourism that comprises the second-largest part of Wyoming’s economy. The Commission began an unprecedented investigation to determine whether the 2019 IRP had adequately considered these issues as a basis for whether to approve the specific generation and transmission infrastructure that Rocky Mountain Power would seek to build or acquire to implement the 2019 IRP.
In its investigation, the Commission has sought and received input from a broad range of stakeholders in Wyoming and, of course, from PacifiCorp. Recently, during the week of July 13, the Commission held public hearings to ensure that all concerned have been heard. One would have thought that everyone would have welcomed the Commission’s review, especially a public utility such as PacifiCorp and public interest groups such as the Powder River Basin Resource Council (PRBRC). Unfortunately, this has not been the case, and the Commission now finds itself in the position of a tribunal in an adversarial proceeding, with parties challenging other parties’ efforts to bring relevant information to the Commission’s attention. Remarkably, both PacifiCorp and PRBRC this past week objected to the Commission’s receiving the recently released U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) study on the potential for carbon capture, utilization and storage as an option for continued operation of coal-fired power plants.
The Commission will consider on Tuesday morning whether to receive and take into account the DOE study. And at 3 p.m. that day, it will undertake formal deliberations on the overall investigation. We can only hope that it will consider all of the pertinent information available and treat its investigation as the open and independent public deliberation that it needs to be. The PacifiCorp proposals are among the most impactful that Wyoming ever has faced. It goes far beyond electricity rates, or whether PacifiCorp satisfies the renewable-energy aspirations of its West Coast clients. It’s essential that PacifiCorp’s plans be considered with the interests of our State and its citizens front and center. Our Public Service Commissioners and their team need to know that we fully support the hard work to get this right.
Kenneth Lay is a senior managing director of the Rock Creek group, an asset management firm based in Washington DC and former treasurer of the World Bank. Lay is a trustee of the Wyoming chapter of The Nature Conservancy.