Bridger plant faces uncertainty

Rocky Mountain Power executives said that plans to close Jim Bridger Plant units one and two have not changed except for the closure dates, which are still being analyzed.

ROCK SPRINGS — Rocky Mountain Power is continuing its work on a plan that is likely to include the retirement of two Jim Bridger Power units. However, the timelines remain unknown.

Corporate executives met with residents at Western Wyoming Community College in Rock Springs on Monday morning to entertain questions and concerns about the coal-fired plant unit closures.

The retirements of four units — Jim Bridger units one and two and two others at the Naughton Plant — are “still very true,” according to Rick Link, PacifiCorp vice president of resource planning and acquisitions. He added that more analysis is needed to determine closure dates.

Rocky Mountain Power is a division of PacifiCorp, which encompasses Wyoming, Idaho, Utah, Oregon, Washington and northern California.

In late April, company executives visiting Rock Springs said that a coal analysis indicated that retiring units one and two by 2022 would save customers about $248 million. Since then, Link said the company has done more research and concluded there would be potential savings for customers if the company phases in the closures.

He said it would be too much, too fast, too expensive and risky to retire the units in 2022.

One unit could close in 2022 while the other would shutdown in 2028. Another scenario would have one unit retire in 2028 and the other in 2032 with options in between being considered, he said. As for the Naughton Plant units in Kemmerer, they are expected to run to 2025 instead of 2022 as stated in April.

When asked after the meeting how much would be saved by not closing both Bridger plant units in 2022, Link said the company was “still working through a lot of numbers.”

“The timing of when other specific coal units retire will continue to be influenced by the need to most cost-effectively ensure system reliability as coal plants retire, not just on PacifiCorp’s system but across the region,” Spencer Hall with Rocky Mountain Power’s media relations told the Rocket-Miner. “Also factoring into final resource decisions will be coordination with other utilities that take power from units under joint ownership, including the Jim Bridger and Colstrip (Montana) coal plants.”

The company is working on its biennial plan that consists of long-term planning, a preferred portfolio of supply-side and demand-side resources to meet this need; and an action plan to identify the steps the company will take during the next two to four years to implement the plan, according to the company.

“The draft ‘preferred portfolio’ for the 2019 integrated resource plan indicates how Rocky Mountain Power/PacifiCorp envisions meeting customer energy needs most cost-effectively over the next 20 years,” Hall said.

PacifiCorp is also looking at replacement resources for once the coal-fired units close, including thermal energy, gas, storage like batteries, and renewables like wind and solar energy.

RMP Senior Vice President of Business Policy and Development Chad Teply said the conversion to natural gas would be more expensive to implement at Jim Bridger than in Naughton, but he spoke in favor of transmission lines that would be valuable in running power from the area.

As for the future of the plant’s employees, PacifiCorp Vice President of Generation Dana Ralston said the company may absorb positions as well as retrain employees and transfer them to other locations.

For the county, it would mean job losses, Sweetwater County Commissioner Jeff Smith said.

A REQUEST FOR HELP

Rep. Lloyd Larsen, R-Lander, said he wishes Rocky Mountain Power would provide concrete information about the future of the units. He said not having a firm target date “makes it difficult to plan.”

“Our communities have to plan for this. Your employers, our citizens need to plan for this,” Larsen said.

It is appreciated that Rocky Mountain Power executives came to visit, he noted, but there are things that need to be firmed up.

“To make it clear will be very important to us,” Larsen said. “We need help here.”

Rocky Mountain Power President and CEO Gary Hoogeveen said there will be additional conversations, and that another meeting in Rock Springs has been tentatively scheduled for July 12.

PacifCorp will review a draft of its long-term energy plan Thursday during a public meeting. The presentation will outline how the company plans “to maintain competitive and affordable rates for customers and ensure system reliability in a changing energy landscape,” Hall said.

“After receiving input from state regulators and other stakeholders, PacifiCorp will file its final 2019 IRP with state regulator commissions by Aug. 1,” he said.

PacifiCorp prepares its integrated resource plan on a biennial schedule, filing its plan with state utility commissions during each odd-numbered year. For five of its six state jurisdictions, the company receives a formal notification as to whether the plan meets the commissions’ IRP standards and guidelines, referred to as an IRP acknowledgement, according to the company.

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