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Political Battle Heats Up In Wyoming Over Renewables Policy

February 17, 2020


Wyoming lawmakers have introduced a bill that would penalize electric utilities for using renewable energy resources.  Fortunately, this bill didn’t receive sufficient votes to advance in the Senate.

Senate File 125, sponsored by the Senate Appropriations Committee, directs utilities to procure by 2021 a minimum of 95% of sales of electricity in Wyoming from eligible generating resources, most of which are carbon-intensive and exclude wind and solar. In 2022, utilities would have to procure 100% of sales from such resources.

Eligible resources include biogenic gas, thermogenic gas, coal, hydroelectric, nuclear, oil and net metering. Utilities would face a $10/MWh fine, which cannot be recovered through rates, for violating the law.

The bill is a reflection of the politics of the energy transition in western states, which have pushed back against plans by utilities in coastal states, such as Berkshire Hathaway Energy’s PacifiCorp, to phase out coal. PacifiCorp, which operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming and is the state’s largest utility, has proposed to retire within the decade units at the coal-fired 375-MW Naughton plant, the 2,111-MW Jim Bridger plant and the 762-MW Dave Johnston plant. Its resource plan, released in October 2019, aims for 7,000 MW of new wind, solar and battery storage by 2025.

PacifiCorp spokesman Spencer Hall on Feb. 13 said utility officials are “working with the legislature and trying to share our point of view.”

“Wyoming is in a bit of an energy transition right now; I think the legislature is looking at lots of different options,” Hall said. “Our vision remains the same: Just to provide least-cost, least-risk resources to power Wyoming.”

Hall added the utility’s resource plan “set a clear path forward reflecting the tough economic story surrounding coal as well as the advantage of zero fuel-cost renewables for our customers.”

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, spent much of his Feb. 10 state-of-the-state address on energy, saying, “Wyoming citizens know too well how a myopic national political attitude to vilify fossil fuels has affected our energy industry.” He decried efforts by coastal states to “extend the reach of environmental regulations well beyond their borders” and called on regulators to “closely examine the assumptions made by various utilities’ integrated resource plans.”

“Wyoming genuinely welcomes renewable resources like wind and solar,” Gordon said. “However, we will not recklessly abandon our most abundant and reliable energy source just because it is unpopular with some people.”

Republicans overwhelmingly control both chambers of the legislature, and some are looking to further regulate renewable energy. One bill, Senate File 36, adds solar energy facilities into current permitting law. Senate File 132 requires military approval of wind farms within a certain distance of military installations.

Wyoming, in part because of an unfriendly tax regime that charges $1/MWh on wind energy output, has lagged behind its neighbors in wind energy development, despite hosting some of the best wind resources in the nation. The state nevertheless has one of the largest pipelines for wind projects in the nation, with more than 5,000 MW of wind under development or under construction.

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