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Lawmakers revise slate of measures aimed at soaring utility costs

The Legislature’s Corporations Committee is set to consider seven draft bills that test whether a utility’s power generation and grid investments truly benefit Wyoming ratepayers.

The Jim Bridger coal-fired power plant is seen here in September 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

by Dustin Bleizeffer, WyoFile

A state legislative panel has revised its efforts to protect ratepayers from rising electric utility costs as well as infrastructure investments that might not benefit Wyoming customers.

The Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee scrapped some draft measures it debated during a special hearing in September and has added several others. The committee, which has moved quickly to address growing anger over rate hikes, is set to review seven draft bills regarding electric utilities when it meets Friday in Cheyenne.

A moratorium on new commercial wind and solar projects in the state, a measure proposed by committee member Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper), is off the table. Wyoming fossil fuel refiners, among others, said it would result in even higher electric rates. Instead, the committee will consider several efforts to test whether a utility’s power generation and grid infrastructure investments truly benefit Wyoming ratepayers.

Committee leadership has pointed to Rocky Mountain Power’s high-profile electric rate hike proposals — a combined 29.2% increase — to underscore the urgency of addressing rising utility costs. Though the case exemplifies the complexity of myriad factors such as the utility’s ongoing shift from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources, the legislative panel’s current work will have little bearing on the company’s existing proposal.

Rocky Mountain Power President and CEO Gary Hoogeveen goes over notes with lobbyist Rick Kaysen during a Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions committee hearing in Cheyenne Sept. 20, 2023. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Independent of legislative debate, the Wyoming Public Service Commission will begin hearing the Rocky Mountain Power case today. Rocky Mountain Power, a division of PacifiCorp, is the largest regulated utility in Wyoming. The commission will likely rule on the matter long before the Legislature begins its budget session in February — the next opportunity to pass any new laws.

Regardless, the 29.2% rate hike — along with increasing weather extremes, a changing regulatory environment and other industry factors — is likely a harbinger of increased costs to come, according to committee members and other observers. Many worry pricier power bills are likely to impact household finances as well as business and industry in the state.

“I think that there is a risk that [electric rate hike requests] will be much, much larger in the next few years if we don’t do something about it,” Scott told WyoFile in September.

Draft legislation

One new measure under consideration, Public service commission-integrated resource plans, appears to have tentative support from both conservation and industrial stakeholders. The bill would direct the Public Service Commission to more closely review regulated utilities’ long-range planning and provide guidance. 

Utilities routinely update what’s referred to as their integrated resource plan — a roadmap of sorts for how they will provide electrical service well into the future. Rocky Mountain Power, for example, filed its most recent integrated resource plan update in April, setting tentative retirement dates for several coal-fired power units in Wyoming and neighboring states as well as plans for major investments in new transmission lines, renewable energy and battery storage.

“I think that there is a risk that [electric rate hike requests] will be much, much larger in the next few years if we don’t do something about it.” SEN. CHARLES SCOTT (R-CASPER)

Though such utility-by-utility planning documents typically solicit input from ratepayers, they tend to set an agenda and investment plan in motion ahead of deeper scrutiny by state-level authorities such as the Wyoming Public Service Commission and the broader public, said Shannon Anderson, attorney for the Sheridan-based landowner advocacy group Powder River Basin Resource Council.

Oregon and Utah already have such measures on the books and exert more guidance over utility integrated resource plans. The Utah Public Service Commission, for example, initially declined to recognize PacifiCorp’s 2021 plan update for allegedly failing to comply with state guidelines.

“We have supported that for quite a while,” said Anderson, who has taken part in several utility rate cases. “It’s important for Wyoming to have a similar process as Utah and Oregon when we’re dealing with a multi-state utility [such as Rocky Mountain Power]. It would allow parties to get more into the weeds on the details and data and the evidence behind why the utilities are choosing what they’re choosing.”

The committee also wants to empower the Public Service Commission to more thoroughly test whether multi-state utilities are properly divvying up the cost and benefits of system-wide facilities such as transmission lines and wind farms. One measure, Electricity rates for costs that do not benefit Wyoming, would direct the Public Service Commission to “exclude any system costs from rate determinations that do not have a benefit to ratepayers in Wyoming.”

Here’s the full list of utility bill drafts

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.


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