Public Invited to Hearings On Investigation into PacifiCorp Coal Plant Shutdowns

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SWEETWATER COUNTY– The Wyoming Public Service Commission is hosting two public hearings next week to discuss their investigation into the coal plant shutdowns in the PacifiCorp/Rocky Mountain Power’s Integrated Resource Plan (IRP) which includes Sweetwater and Lincoln counties.

The Wyoming Public Service Commission will Be hosting the public hearings on:

  • Tuesday, January 28, 2020, At The Kemmerer City Council Chambers, 220 WY-233, Kemmerer, Wyoming, from 3 pm to 7 pm.
  • Wednesday, January 29, 2020, At The Rock Springs City Council Chambers, 212 D. Street Rock Springs, Wyoming, from 11 am to 2 pm.

The Sweetwater County Conservation District is encouraging the public to attend a public hearing.

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Sweetwater County Coal Impacts

With the filing of the 2019 Integrated Resource Plan before the Wyoming Public Service Commission on October 18, 2019, PacifiCorp (dba Rocky Mountain Power) confirmed its announcement a year earlier that it would accelerate the closure of the Jim Bridger Power Plant units and the affiliated coal mines. RMP will close one power unit in 2023, a second in 2027, and reduce operations for the remaining units to comply with air quality emissions. The reduced operations will allow RMP to avoid upgrading its air quality equipment. The 2019 IRP will instead rely on 3,500 MW of new wind energy, which is being built in Converse and Carbon Counties.

The RMP announcement signals a significant downturn for the future Sweetwater County economy and its residents. Sweetwater’s coal economy produces significant tax revenue to the county and the State of Wyoming, and provides employment opportunity, housing stability, and support for schools and roads. Coal touches nearly every other economic sector in Sweetwater County. The imminent retirement of coal-fired power plant units and the coal mines will create a void in the Sweetwater County.

The following figures demonstrate the importance of coal mines and coal-fired power plants to Sweetwater County: In 2017, Jim Bridger Coal Mine, Black Butte Coal Mine, and the Jim Bridger Power Plant employed about 929 workers. New studies show that for each coal job created, three non-coal jobs were added to the economy.

  • Coal employment added $167,454,000 in wages to Sweetwater County alone.
  • Coal employment supports, on average, 5,103 county residents – approximately 12% of the Sweetwater County population.
  • Coal employees own approximately 1,394 single-family homes in Sweetwater County.
  • Coal employees contribute approximately $27,000,000 to the total assessed value of property in Sweetwater County.
  • In 2019, the assessed value of all land, equipment, and infrastructure for the Black Butte coal mine and Jim Bridger coal plant and mine is $242,757,938. Coal production from the Black Butte and Jim Bridger mines added another $203,176,076. Coal related taxes for the assessed value of the coal plants, mines, and production in Sweetwater County in 2019 generated $323,104,507 and $22,248,955 in ad valorem taxes. Sweetwater County coal produced $14,795,555 to Wyoming education funds.
  • Sweetwater County received $2,446,854 in sales and use taxes in 2019 from Jim Bridger and Black Butte coal mines.
  • In 2018, Wyoming received about $203 million in federal royalty payments from coal produced on federal land and about $9.14 million of this amount was distributed to Sweetwater County. U.S. Department of the Interior, Natural Resources Revenue Data, Explore Data/Wyoming (last visited July 17, 2019), https://revenuedata.doi.gov/explore/WY/.
  • Sweetwater coal mines paid $12,549,259 in severance taxes to the State and Sweetwater County received a share of these taxes as well.
  • Coal mines in Sweetwater County contributed $724,911 to the Wyoming Office of State Lands.
  • Sweetwater County received $43,500,000 in Federal Abandoned Mine Land funds in 2018.• The 2019 RMP IRP does not address the economic impacts to the State of Wyoming or Sweetwater County. RMP instead touts wind power as the “least cost, least risk” option necessary to replace coal and aging coal-fired power plants. RMP also points to the $1 / MW in taxes paid to the State of Wyoming, which represent pennies on the dollar when compared to coal revenues.

The RMP Plan also does not identify any plan to compensate Sweetwater County residents for the loss of jobs. Under the current blue print, the first coal-fired power plant unit will close in 2023 and a second unit by 2027. RMP will operate the remaining units less in order to meet air quality standard without upgrading the current equipment. The shorter hours of operation mean less work at the coal mines and power plants and less revenue to the county over the next 17 years.

In 2019, the Wyoming Legislature enacted a law that requires RMP to sell a coal-fired power plant unit if it is going to be retired. The law imposes significant penalties on RMP if it refuses to sell the units or refuses to buy the power produced from the coal-fired power plants.

The Commission has been working on rules to implement the law but this is the first of its kind and RMP is not enthusiastic about selling coal fired units while still purchasing power.