Pacificorp Considering Closure of Four Power Plant Units by 2022

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While there's still plenty of time for public comment, all signs are pointing to the closure of two units at the Jim Bridger Power Plant within the decade. (Photo courtesy of pacificorp.com)

ROCK SPRINGS — Four area power plant units could be retired by 2022 as a cost saving measure to customers of Rocky Mountain Power if that is the most feasible option in the companies Integrated Resource Plan (IRP).

The units under consideration include two at the Jim Bridger Power Plant east of Rock Springs, and two at the Naughton Power Plant near Kemmerer.

Rocky Mountain Power, a division of Pacificorp and part of Bershire Hathaway Energy, has released an updated study of its coal fleet as part of the IRP. The company examined whether customers would benefit if the units are retired as early as 2022 and replaced with other resources like wind, solar, batteries or natural gas.

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According to company statistics, most of Pacificorp’s coal units will reach the end of their depreciable lives at different points over the next 30 years. Pacificorp serves Wyoming, Utah, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and northern California.

Wednesday’s Meeting

Company representatives met with employees of the plant and Bridger Coal Mine yesterday, and also held a meeting with city, county and state elected officials at the Holiday Inn to clarify their process.

“We continuously examine the costs and benefits of how the company generates electricity to ensure we are making the best decisions for customers,” said Rick Link, Pacificorp Vice President of resource planning and acquisitions. “The study reflects the ongoing changing economics for coal driven by market forces.”

Gary Hoogeveen, president and CEO of RMP, said the coal study shows that cost savings to customers over the next 20 years would be about $248 million if those units are retired. He emphasized that while the coal study is complete, the current IRP won’t be finished until August.

Other options will be considered, and the public will have ample opportunity to weigh in over the next several months. A general public hearing will take place today beginning at 10 a.m. MST and residents can access that meeting here.

The completed coal unit analysis can also be found here.

What Happens to the Workforce?

Sweetwater County Commissioner Jeff Smith asked Hoogeveen what happens to the workforce at the plant and mine if the units are retired?

Pacificorp Vice President of Generation Dana Ralston answered by saying the company will be able to absorb the existing workforce because of attrition.

“Employment levels as plants go down,” Ralston told the panel. “But we’re not looking at this as layoffs.”

However, Ralston added that Black Butte Coal Mine could be effected because using only two power plant units won’t support two mines. RMP purchases some of its coal from Black Butte.

Rock Springs Mayor Tim Kaumo reminded the group that other industries that service the power plant and mine could be effected by the retiring units as well. He asked if the proposed units could be preserved by converting them to other resources like natural gas. But Link said the process is not cost efficient.

While the study shows that the best cost savings to customers is to retire the units, Hoogeveen suggested it might not all happen at once.

“I think it’s quite reasonable to expect that instead of retiring all four of the units in 2022, we might stagger the retirements out through 2025 or perhaps 2028.”

He did say its likely that at least one of the units will be shut down by 2022.