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Lawmakers rush to take action ahead of proposed electric rate hike

The Corporations Committee will consider five draft bills and a resolution in response to Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed 29.2% rate increase.

Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) at the 67th Wyoming Legislature's 2023 general session in Cheyenne. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

A state legislative committee is moving quickly to consider a raft of new proposed measures that members say will help protect Wyoming ratepayers from a dramatic rise in utility costs. 

The impetus for the draft legislation — there are five draft bills and a draft resolution that will be considered Wednesday in Cheyenne — are two electric rate hike proposals by Rocky Mountain Power that add up to a 29.2% increase, according to members of the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee. The multi-state utility, which is a division of Warren Buffett’s PacifiCorp, is the largest single electrical provider in Wyoming.

The first of two formal “evidentiary” Public Service Commission hearings regarding the rate hike proposals is set for Oct. 25. Originally, the Corporations Committee wasn’t scheduled to meet again until Oct. 26, but “leadership in both houses asked us to move things up,” Corporations Committee Co-Chairman Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) told WyoFile. 

“There is even some talk of a special session,” he added.

Representatives of Rocky Mountain Power, as well as leadership from the Public Service Commission charged with approving or modifying the rate requests, testified before the Corporations Committee in August. The utility re-asserted its analysis that volatile markets for coal and natural gas are the main drivers behind the proposed rate hikes, which add up to $190.5 million. Meantime, the utility’s renewable energy additions — so far — have helped Wyoming ratepayers avoid more than $85 million in costs that otherwise would have been added to monthly bills.

Rocky Mountain Power provides the cheapest electricity among investor-owned utilities in Wyoming, according to data compiled by the Wyoming Public Service Commission. (Wyoming Public Service Commission)

But many local officials, members of the public and lawmakers doubt Rocky Mountain Power’s analysis.

“I’m profoundly skeptical,” Corporations Committee member Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) said.

Rather than focusing on fossil fuels, the committee is considering legislation that largely targets renewable energy, including a moratorium on yet-to-be permitted industrial wind and solar facilities in the state.

Proposed legislation

The Corporations Committee will consider five draft bills, as well as a draft resolution, when it meets Wednesday:

° Public Service Commission – electricity reliability

° Reclamation and decommissioning costs

° Low carbon energy rate recovery

° Moratorium on new wind and solar in electricity rates

° Electricity rates for costs that do not benefit Wyoming

° A resolution in opposition to Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed electric rate hikes

Several of the measures, including those that target electric reliability, facility decommissioning costs and facilities that “do not benefit Wyoming,” appear to be duplicative of the scrutiny that the Public Service Service Commission already applies to regulated utilities in the state, said Shannon Anderson, attorney for the Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council.

“They [Public Service Commission] are professionals, and they do a really good job,” Anderson said. “The Legislature needs to let them do that job.”

Claire Deuter, an organizer with the council, said the organization is particularly concerned with the proposed moratorium on industrial wind and solar energy. 

“It’s picking winners and losers, and it’s picking coal over renewables,” Deuter said. “It seems foolish after we’ve had Rocky Mountain Power say renewables have saved customers money.”

But not all of the utility’s rising costs of providing electricity in the state are tied to fossil fuels, Scott said. There appears to be a “perverse incentive” — including federal measures and other state’s anti-fossil fuel policies — that makes it lucrative for the utility to add renewable energy and dump fossil fuels to generate electricity. That, Scott believes, is the primary threat to ratepayers in the state.

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) looks through documents at his desk in the Senate in 2020. (Mike Vanata/WyoFile)

“Those are the issues that are at stake here,” he said. “And the committee is still parsing out what the heck can we really do about this?

“I would say people should not expect we’re going to fix the whole problem in one meeting,” Scott added. “This is a multi-year effort.” 

The committee will again hear testimony from Rocky Mountain Power, and the public will have the opportunity to comment on the proposed measures. The hearing will begin at 8:30 a.m. Wednesday at the Capitol Extension Building in Cheyenne. A live-streaming option will be available.

Separately, the Wyoming Public Service Commission has scheduled three more meetings to hear public comment regarding Rocky Mountain Power’s $50.3 million energy cost adjustment and its $140.2 million general rate case.

° Monday, September 18, 2023, in Riverton at the Central Wyoming College’s Health and Science Building (Room No. 100) located at 2660 Peck Avenue, from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

° Monday, September 25, 2023, in Laramie at the Laramie Municipal Operations Center located at 4373 N. 3rd St., North Platte Conference Room, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

° Thursday, October 12, 2023, in Casper at the Thyra Thomson State Office Building located at 444 W. Collins Dr., Roundhouse Conference Room # 3024, from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m.

The meetings may also be accessed via Zoom at https://us02web.zoom.us/j/9933449233, or by telephone by dialing 1-669-900-9128 or 1-253-215-8782 (Meeting ID: 993 344 9233).

Comments regarding Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed rate cases can be submitted via email at wpsc_comments@wyo.gov, or mailed to 2515 Warren Ave., Suite 300, Cheyenne, WY 82002.

This article was originally published by WyoFile and is republished here with permission. WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.