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Residents, officials, business leaders oppose Rocky Mountain Power rate increase en masse in Casper

Mayor Bruce Knell speaks to the Wyoming Public Service Commission on Aug. 24 (Stew Dyer / Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — Over 150 people showed up to a public hearing at the Thyra Thomson State Office Building in Casper on Thursday night, with dozens more attending through Zoom, to reject the nearly 30% rate increase proposed by Rocky Mountain Power.

No one present spoke in favor of the proposal.

Rocky Mountain Power wants to hike prices by nearly 22%, a request that’s primarily driven by volatile natural gas and coal markets, according to the company. It’s the largest rate increase request the regulated-monopoly utility has made in more than a decade, and it would result in an additional $16.42 per month for the average household customer, according to the company.

Rocky Mountain Power is proposing a 7.6% temporary true-up increase along with the 21.6% base rate. How the rate hike will affect monthly bills differs between residential, business, agricultural and industrial customers. Combined, the average household customer’s monthly bill would increase by $19.94, the company estimates.

Among those speaking Thursday against the proposal were several elected officials from state, county and city governments across the state, including the mayors of Casper and Mills.

“They even said when they met with [the Casper City Council] last week they knew they were asking for too much,” Casper Mayor Bruce Knell said. “This is a $134 billion company that is doing business like they are selling a used car. That’s bothersome.”

“There will be no more renewable farms in Natrona County under my mayorship if this is the price we have to pay,” Mayor Leah Juarez of Mills said, echoing the sentiments of many who commented that this rate increase is due to Rocky Mountain Power’s business decisions to increase green energy production.

Other elected officials speaking against the proposal included Secretary of State Chuck Gray; Rep. Jon Conrad, House District 19; Sen. Bob Ide; Senate District 29, Rep. Tony Locke; House District 35, Sen. Troy McKeown; Senate District 24, Rep. Clark Stith; House District 48, Rep. Tomi Strock; House District 6, Rep. Art Washut; House District 36, Commissioner Dave North, Natrona County; and Councilmember Bob Zent, Shoshoni.

Chairman Mary Throne, Deputy Chairman Chris Petrie and Commissioner Mike Robinson were there to hear comments for the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

Attorney Ivan Williams, Chairman Mary Throne, Commissioner Mike Robinson and Deputy Chairman Chris Petrie from the Public Service Commission at a public hearing in Casper Aug. 24 (Stew Dyer, Oil City News)

Jody Levine of the Wyoming Mining Association spoke on behalf of the 33 mining companies in the association.

“Industrial customers comprise 70% of Rocky Mountain Power’s load factor in Wyoming, which is unique across RMP’s footprint. Many of WMA’s members are in the industrial rate class. Next to labor costs electricity is the largest expense for these companies,” Levine said, emphasizing that for large industrial companies, the rate increase will come out closer to 33% and will make Wyoming industry less competitive.

President and CEO of UR Energy John Cash also spoke on the impact the rate increase would have on Wyoming industry, citing the companies Lost Creek and Shirley Basin uranium mines. He said that between the two operations at full estimated production, this would bring their electric costs from $3.6 million to $4.8 million, making it more difficult to land contracts in an industry that is competing with countries that don’t have to follow the same rules as UR Energy.

When questioned whether the meeting and public comments would really do any good, Attorney Ivan Williams, who is supervising this case, said: “This type of testimony is important as evidenced by the fact that we are here.” He added that there are meetings across the state taking place on the proposal.

For those who missed the meeting, the Public Service Commission said it will be back for another meeting in September but did not yet have a date or time.

Those interested can leave public comments on the Public Service Commission website or call Williams’s office at 307-777-5746.