SWEETWATER COUNTY — The Sweetwater County commissioners voted to ratify draft comments from the Coalition of Local Governments on a number of regional proposals during their meeting Tuesday morning, including comments on Rocky Mountain Power’s most-recent integrated resource plan.
Coalition of Local Governments is an organization that helps promote the viewpoints of the county commissions in Sweetwater, Uinta and Sublette Counties, as well as the multiple conservation districts in southwestern Wyoming.
The coalition submitted comments on Rocky Mountain Power’s 2023 Integrated Resource Plan, a document the company updates every two years to reflect its power generation and transmission goals and adopt the most cost-effective means in generating electricity. The coalition remains critical of the company’s plan. A letter to the Wyoming Public Service Commission says each revision the company makes to its plan moves up proposed dates for the retirement of natural gas conversion of coal-fired units at its power plants.
“The loss of this reliable and proven source of power continues to result in resource adequacy and reliability concerns across the region,” Eric South, Chairman of the Coalition wrote.
South’s letter admits projects to convert coal units to natural gas and the Natrium nuclear demonstration plant planned to be built in Kemmerer do offset some of those concerns and save jobs, however, those projects also face their own costs and challenges that add to concerns of RMP’s push for a “completely renewable grid.”
Along with the need for power generated by RMP, the coalition’s letter highlights the importance of natural resources in Sweetwater and Lincoln Counties. Along with the large number of residents employed by the natural resources industries, the coalition notes the jobs in those industries are some of the highest paying within those counties.
“The beneficial use of natural resources has been the basis for the counties’ economy, custom, and culture,” the letter states. “The mining industry accounts for a large part of the property tax base for each county.”
The coalition’s comments also focus on a need to protect ratepayers from price hikes the coalition says are related to investments in renewable energy and transmission lines. The coalition’s letter notes there will be additional expense in supplying energy when renewable energy sources are unable to operate due to unfavorable weather conditions. The letter cites comments made within the resource plan by RMP, which admit there will be resource adequacy risks through the 2020s because of increased demand and resource variability.
A second letter from the coalition involves the Pond Field LLC right-of-way application for the Sweetwater Carbon Storage Hun CO2 Sequestration Project, which aims to allow for the storage of carbon dioxide in up to 44,570 acres of subsurface pore space beneath the ground. The coalition believes the application for subsurface access would impact resource development, drinking water, water quality, and private property.
The coalition also believes the project will Impact future projects as Pond Field LLC could apply for permits to build additional facilities, pipelines and support roads to support the project. The letter urges the Bureau of Land Management to consider impacts of the current access request, as well as future development needed for the project.
The coalition opposes fee increases focused on a proposed fee program for the Bridger-Teton’s Snake River Corridor between Hoback and Alpine Junction and proposed fee and hospitality increases for campgrounds in the Greys River District.
The coalition asks the US Forest Service to not price out area residents with its proposed increases.
“While the Coalition supports modest increases in the fees in order to help facilitate and cover maintenance and improvements to the facilities, the Coalition would request that the Forest Service commit to improving these facilities and not price out the local residents from using Forest Service facilities,” South wrote to David Cernicek, the Wild and Scenic River Coordinator for the U.S. Forest Service.
The coalition’s letter claims the proposed fee increase does not give a basis for an increase in fees, alleging the campgrounds and hospitality area have not been well maintained. The coalition letter suggests the forest service disclose the type of maintenance and improvements to justify the increases. The coalition further criticizes many of the proposed fee increases themselves, with many campgrounds doubling their price per night. Examples cited in the letter include campgrounds at Meadows Guard Station, Deer Creek Guard Station and McCain Guard Station increasing from $30 or $40 per night to $80 per night.
“Why are these nightly fees subject to such a big increase compared to the other areas that only increased by $10?” the coalition’s letter asks.
The fourth letter from the coalition the commissioners ratified focuses on the National Elk Refuge and supports maintaining a population of bison and elk within the refuge and prevent the spread of brucellosis to nearby livestock on public lands.