September 10, 2020 at 10:39 am

The Wyoming Public Service Commission moved to delay finalizing its investigation into the state’s largest utility

By Sandesh Ilhe

The Wyoming Public Service Commission moved to delay finalizing its investigation into the state’s largest utility on Tuesday, after an energy company made an eleventh-hour request to include additional evidence in the case.

Commissioners had initially scheduled public deliberations on its investigation into PacifiCorp for Tuesday afternoon but ultimately delayed the proceeding. The commission determined it needed additional time to weigh the merits and legality of introducing additional evidence, which in this case involved a study on the potential benefits of retrofitting coal-fired power plants with carbon capture.

Heated discussion dominated an impromptu hearing held at 8 a.m. Tuesday, as parties argued for and against the inclusion of additional evidence. The debate captured the very issue arresting the state’s attention: whether Wyoming should continue investing in its coal industry or support a transition to a new energy economy.

The regulatory body launched its investigation into PacifiCorp on Nov. 13, following the release of the company’s integrated resource plan. The plan essentially mapped out the company’s energy strategy for the coming decades.

PacifiCorp’s 2019 plan would retire several coal plants early to save ratepayers money. The plan did not sit well with most Wyoming lawmakers and industry groups. Over the course of several months, the commission held multiple technical conferences and hearings to investigate the integrity of the plan.

But as the investigation was drawing to a close, Glenrock Energy, a company party to the case, filed a motion to introduce additional evidence in the form of a study on Sept. 2.

Initiated by Gov. Mark Gordon, the study was published last week by the U.S. Department of Energy. In a stinging rebuke of PacifiCorp’s plan, the study concluded equipping coal plants with carbon capture was a better option. In short, extending the lives of facilities this way would reduce emissions, cut ratepayers’ costs and sustain jobs in the state, the study concluded.

Though the study was lauded by the governor’s office and the coal industry, several economists, attorneys and conservationists have characterized its findings as misleading and incomplete.

Glenrock Energy has long lobbied in support of extending the operation of coal plants. It urged commissioners to consider the recently published study before issuing the investigation’s conclusions.

“We can’t imagine anything more relevant or instructive to the commission for purposes of the issues that Glenrock (Energy) has raised in this matter,” said Dale Cottam, an attorney representing Glenrock Energy.

Study shows optimistic future for carbon capture, but doubts over viability linger

 

“Proceedings like this one — this investigation (by) the commission — they are very, very important. They don’t happen very often,” he added. “… Our suggestion to the commission is that to conclude this investigation, without admitting the study into the record would mean that the commission could be missing out on an important opportunity to achieve a complete record in this matter.

The Northern Laramie Range Alliance, a party in the case, also submitted a similar motion to include the study. But opponents to the motions, including PacifiCorp, cited several due process concerns in the move.

Jacob McDermot, an attorney representing PacifiCorp, called the motion “wildly unfair,” given the lack of time to review and substantively respond to the late filing.

The Powder River Basin Resource Council, a landowners group, joined the utility in its opposition to the admittance of the study.

“We urge the commission to put politics aside and focus on the law and legal standards that are designed to ensure due process in the judicial proceedings,” Shannon Anderson, a staff attorney representing the group, said during testimony before the commission. “This is not about the substance of the study. It’s about the process and whether the study should be admitted as evidence for a hearing that occurred six weeks ago. The motion should be denied.”



Sandesh Ilhe

With an Engineers degree in Advanced Database Management and Information Security, Sandesh brings the deep understanding of the digital world to the table. His articles reflect the challenges and the complexities that come along with every disruption in the industry. He carries over six years of experience on working with websites and ensuring that the right article reaches the right reader.

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