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Rocky Mountain Power plans show transition from coal in favor of renewable energy

The Rocky Mountain Power solar plant near Holden, Utah.
The Rocky Mountain Power solar plant near Holden, Millard County.
Rocky Mountain Power

SALT LAKE CITY — The parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, PacifiCorp, released a draft of its new 20-year energy plan that includes new renewable energy and the closure of 83% of its coal units by 2038.

PacifiCorp, which operates in Utah, Idaho, Wyoming, California, Washington and Oregon, presented its 2019 Integrated Resource Plan to the Utah Public Commission Thursday in Salt Lake City.

The company updates its 20-year plan every two years to account for changing market conditions, new policies and other factors, said Spencer Hall, Rocky Mountain Power communications manager.

“This is a really exciting inflection point for Utah. Clean Air is a huge priority for Utahns and this direction addresses those concerns,” he said. “We’ve really appreciated the process and look forward to continuing to deliver affordable, reliable power to Utahns.”

The draft includes the addition of 3,000 megawatts of new solar power in Utah and 354 megawatts of battery storage expected to be phased between 2020 and 2037.

Overall, the company plans to add 3,500 megawatts of new wind generation and 3,000 megawatts of new solar power by 2025, and more than 4,600 megawatts of new wind generation by 2038.

One megawatt, according to Hall, could provide power for 500 homes.

Hall said the plan would cut 43% of carbon emissions by 2023 and 57% of carbon emissions by 2030.

“If we don’t find ways to provide that power in low-emissions ways, we’re going to continue to have air quality problems,” Hall said.

The plan foresees the construction of a 400-mile transmission line, Gateway South, that will connect southwestern Wyoming and northern Utah to make delivery of renewable energy resources affordable, according to Hall. The construction of a 140-mile transmission segment, Gateway West, is currently underway.

By investing in transmission, “we can extend the reach and flexibility of the grid so more low-cost energy can be delivered to our customers,” said Chad Teply, PacifiCorp senior vice president for business policy and development, in prepared statement.

PacifiCorp is also looking to transition away from coal-fueled generation in preference of renewable energy.

Out of 24 operating coal units, 16 units are expected to close by 2030, according to the plan, and a total of 20 units are expected to close by 2038 in Wyoming, Colorado and Montana.

Rick Link, PacifiCorp vice president of resource planning and acquisitions, said coal generation “will continue to play an important role as units approach retirement dates,” according to a news release.

“At the same time, this plan reflects the ongoing cost pressure on coal as wind generation, solar generation and storage have emerged as low-cost resource options for our customers,” Link said.

During the Utah Public Commission meeting, Rob Piippo, coal mine general manager at Westmoreland Coal Co. in Kemmerer, Wyoming, disagreed and expressed worry about the fate of more than 200 of his employees who would be affected by the coal unit retirements.

“There are very good men and women that are doing nothing more than wanting to support their families and do what they love. Some of them are third-generation miners, it’s what they know. And they’re great at it,” Piippo said. “It’s excruciating to me, to not be able to give them the future that they deserve.”

Piippo said in the end, other people will still have the ability to turn on their lights, but miners in Kemmerer will have to “figure out how to put their lives back together when their way of life got destroyed.”

“We’ve been meeting with them (the coal community) a lot over the last year, and keeping them up to speed on that, but it’s tough” Hall said. “It’s a tough thing to transition a whole community, especially one that is built entirely around providing manpower for an electric plant.”

PacifiCorp will file its final plan with state regulatory commissions by Oct. 18.

“We all want to breathe clean air, and we all want to support communities,” Hall said.

Hall said Utahn’s low power costs have attracted companies to move business to the state.

“We have worked hard throughout this process, even as we’re adding new renewables and moving into a new direction. We’ve done it in a way that will still maintain affordability, maintain reliability, and make it really attractive for companies to do business and also for people to have their home.”