An electric power meter stands outside a residential home in Casper. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Fear and outrage about rising electric rates have set the stage for lawmakers to go after renewable energy and possibly throw up roadblocks to future wind and solar development in the state.

Rocky Mountain Power has testified and submitted data to show that volatile fossil fuel pricing — including a spike in December that boosted Wyoming’s revenue outlook — is the primary driver behind its staggering 30% rate hike proposal.

But some lawmakers, and many of the utility’s customers, say renewables are to blame. 

Several members of the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions Committee have floated ideas for bill drafts they say are intended to address utility rate increases and factors driving them. The ideas include a one-year moratorium on new industrial-scale solar and wind facilities, and shielding Wyoming ratepayers from helping to pay for facilities in the state that primarily serve customers outside Wyoming.

Wyoming historically has exported more than half the electrical power that’s generated in the state. And whether those exports are derived from coal, natural gas, solar or wind, it’s a mainstay industry that benefits Wyoming’s economy and — in particular — the state’s budget, according to Kara Choquette, director of communications for Power Company of Wyoming, developer of the Sierra Madre, Chokecherry wind farm in Carbon County.

“Much like the Sinclair Refinery does right now — turning oil into refined products like biofuels and jet fuel — by selling that to outside markets, that brings revenue to the state and supports jobs in the state,” Choquette said.  

Though Co-Chairman Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander) expects several draft bills when the committee meets next in October, he said the panel has yet to officially take on a “policy direction” regarding rising utility rates. “The bill draft requests are simply a preliminary desire to analyze and discuss these issues further,” Case told WyoFile.

Sen. Cale Case sits at a desk
Sen. Cale Case (R-Lander), pictured during the legislative session in 2023, says the Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivision Committee will consider measures to address rising utility rates. (Megan Lee Johnson/WyoFile)

However, the committee does plan to draft a resolution to express “concerns with the proposed increase, raising some specifics that we will need to agree on,” Case said. The resolution, if approved by the committee, will be submitted to the Wyoming Public Service Commission — the independent body with authority over regulated monopoly utilities like Rocky Mountain Power.

Rate increases

Rocky Mountain Power has two rate increase requests pending before the Wyoming Public Service Commission.

The first is a general rate case to set “base rates” for the next several years. The utility says it needs to increase rates by an average of 21.6% to cover an extra annual $140.2 million in expenses necessary to serve its Wyoming customers.

The second is a temporary rate increase — an average of 7.6% — to recover $50.3 million of about $90 million in unexpected fuel cost and power purchase overruns in 2022 due to extreme weather events, according to its April filing with the state. That rate increase went into effect in July, but still needs final approval. It will sunset in July 2024.

Combining the two rate increases, the average household customer’s monthly bill would increase by $19.94, according to the company’s estimates. Both rate increases would be applied differently, depending on customer type. For example, businesses and large industrial customers are charged a higher percentage than the average household customer.

Rep. Tony Locke (R-Casper) implores Wyoming Public Service Commission officials to scrutinize a proposed 29.2% rate hike by Rocky Mountain Power on Aug. 24, 2022 in Casper. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“The primary drivers of both the annual net power cost adjustment and the general rate increase request are the increased prices of natural gas and coal to fuel the company’s power plants,” utility spokesman David Eskelsen told WyoFile. “Plus increases in wholesale market power purchased by the company to help balance system demand.”

The Public Service Commission will hold an evidentiary hearing on the general rate case beginning Oct. 25 in Cheyenne. That proceeding will continue over several days, according to the agency. The commission is scheduled to hold a similar hearing regarding the energy cost adjustment request on Dec. 19.

More about the proposed rate increases and how to comment is on the Wyoming Public Service Commission’s webpage.

Prior to the official rate case hearings, the commission will hold several more public comment sessions around the state. The next public comment meeting will be at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 18 at Central Wyoming College in Riverton. More dates will be posted at this link.

Apart from the Rocky Mountain Power rate increases, Wyoming has seen five new major rate cases filed since the end of 2022, according to Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate Administrator Anthony Ornelas. “In my time here, which is over a decade, that’s really an unprecedented [number of rate case filings] for one year,” he said.

Potential legislation

In addition to burdening households, committee members said, the magnitude of Rocky Mountain Power’s proposed rate increases is a particular threat to the state’s trona, soda ash and oil and gas industries. Large industrial facilities consume approximately 70% of the electricity that the utility provides in the state.

Most committee members, as well as members of the public who spoke at Public Service Commission meetings in Casper and Rock Springs, suspect that policies favoring renewable sources of energy over fossil fuels are to blame for rising costs.

Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) speaks on the House floor. (Mike Vanata/Wyofile)

“We have seen the coastal states dictating what we can do to generate power,” Rep. Jeremy Haroldson (R-Wheatland) said, adding that utilities are being forced to decommission coal-fired power plants. “Is there a way that we can help push back?”

One potential legislative effort committee members discussed would target the “multi-state protocol,” which divides up facility costs among PacifiCorp’s six-state operating region. PacifiCorp is the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power. Currently, the protocol assigns about 15% of those costs to Wyoming ratepayers. 

The Corporations Committee will explore legislation to direct the Public Service Commission to prohibit charging Wyoming ratepayers for PacifiCorp facilities in the state — wind farms and interstate electric lines, for example — that primarily or entirely serve the utility’s out-of-state customers. If such facilities do not benefit Wyoming ratepayers, “they should be excluded from being [part of Wyoming’s 15%] as a divided up asset,” Case said.

Committee member Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) said he’ll draft several bills to address utility costs, including a one-year moratorium on yet-to-be-permitted industrial wind and solar energy projects that primarily serve customers outside Wyoming. “I think we’re getting overloaded with the wind and the solar, at least in the Rocky Mountain Power energy mix,” Scott said. “I think we’re going to have to possibly do some radical things here.” 

Sen. Charles Scott, (R-Casper), speaks during the 66th Wyoming Legislature’s general session.(Michael Cummo/Wyoming Tribune Eagle/Wyoming News Exchange)

Scott also wants to make certain the Public Service Commission has authority to ensure that Wyoming ratepayers are not over-charged for the cost of decommissioning large utility facilities such as coal-fired power plants, he said. 

Scott will also draw up an amendment to strike a provision in the 2020 law, House Bill 200 – Reliable and dispatchable low-carbon energy standards, that allows utilities to impose a surcharge on Wyoming customers to comply with the mandate. As a result of the bill, Rocky Mountain Power and Black Hills Power customers in Wyoming now pay a “carbon capture compliance” surcharge which, combined, amounts to $5.4 million.

Utilities and private investors ought to cover costs to comply with the law, Scott said, which attempts to force utilities to retrofit coal-fired power plants in the state with carbon capture technologies.

Sen. Brian Boner (R-Douglas) said he wants to see a bill draft that would strengthen the Public Service Commission’s authority to ensure electric service reliability, he said, citing complaints about frequent outages.

The Joint Corporations Committee‘s next meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26 and 27 in Cheyenne.

Correction: This story was updated to clarify the Public Service Commission’s scheduling to consider the two rate cases. -Ed

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. “Rocky Mountain Power has testified and submitted data to show that volatile fossil fuel pricing — including a spike in December that boosted Wyoming’s revenue outlook — is the primary driver behind its staggering 30% rate hike proposal.

    But some lawmakers, and many of the utility’s customers, say renewables are to blame. ”

    Ah, so the group that actually has the data says one thing, and people that learn all of their facts from facebook and fox news say something completely different, I wonder who could be right.

    1. If the lawmakers don’t believe RMP order an outside independent audit. Then act on the facts! To do anything else is just ethically and morally wrong.

  2. This article is most likely a summary given by someone who attended the Casper Meeting on August 24. You can listen to the audio of the meeting on the ‘Wyoming Public Service Commission’ website. It is long because there were a lot of concerned people there. It is worth the listen. You need to really listen to the data given and concerns given especially by the elected officials. They mostly speak at the beginning. One point that was brought out was that Rocky Mountain Power is actually paying less for their fossil fuel now than they have in past years. You will have to listen for the specifics. Also, the 15% we are committed to in that pact is to pay for the damages to homes in fires in Oregon, I believe. Yes, Green Energy was brought up but more importantly the impact this will have on Trona companies, small privately owned businesses of all sort, the uranium mine will possibly put these all out of business then what will happen to Wyoming? There is so much more to all this than is covered in this short article. I really encourage you to go the the website. On the WPSC homepage pull down below the picture of the Tetons and you will see a box marked ‘Hot Topics’. click on this. The RMP increases are the first two items. You can click on listen to the audio of the meetings. The July 17 and Aug 24 meetings are both there. The Aug 24 gives more information because more people especially, Mayors, city council members, county commissioners, state representatives, business owners and private citizens. Some get more political than others but most of the elected officials just give information. Rocky Mountain Power won’t or can’t? even give data to show why they need the increase. We just have to take their word for it. I challenge you, get a pot of coffee perking and sit down for the 3 1/2 hours of comments. Yes some of the citizens get emotional and some of their figures don’t add up but the mining companies at the end of the recording are also important to hear. At least it will give you something more to think about than just hearing someone with or without a bias summarize that meeting in an article here.

  3. Reading the comments and subject I do not see any mention of how much property tax is collected from windmills. Counties have seen a big revenue source as windmills are constructed in Wyoming. I believe Wyoming oil, gas, and coal are being depleted because carbon resources are being depleted never to be used again. Unlike carbon resources, solar and wind are renewable, clean and we have a lot of wind and sun in Wyoming that will be here for millenniums to come. I remember someone saying that they hope there is someone available to turn off the lights when the last drop of oil and ton of coal is burned. Carbon is not infinite while renewables will continue as oil, gas and coal continue to have price increases to replace a finite source in carbon resources. The sun will come up tomorrow and the wind will continue to blow far after carbon sources disappear. I believe Wyoming is the only state that taxes renewable usage. Buggy whips went out of style as the automobile took over.

  4. If these America first politicians in the Wyoming Legislature want to do something for the gas consumer in this country, the USA, they would demand that gas generated in this country cannot be exported.

    Larry S. down thread is correct it will get worse but not for the reasons he states. No person or President can stop the relentless rise in energy costs as we add more people to the planet. The system is set up to exploit every ounce of energy to keep growth going and I see no way for that premise to end.

    C’est La Vie but we beat Texas Tech, so try to have fun as it all comes undone!

  5. It is time WY residents are set free from being charged for east and west coast demands to use alternative energy. They want the alternatives so let them pay for it.

  6. In Wyoming, we have fossil fuels and old fossil legislators . Our public service commission does a really good job and they need to realize that.

    People in Wyoming. Also need to realize that they need to conserve energy, not drive so fast, don’t turn their thermostats on high heat in the winter and low cold in the summer. Who really needs an air-conditioned home in Wyoming. You maybe two or three weeks out of the year.

    Wake up people, you want the government when you are in need, but if everything is peachy you don’t want their involvement. 🤬

  7. So, the only reason I found out about the near 30% rate increase to my RMP bill was because of WyoFile. They at that time, sort of indicated this might not be a good thing for Wyoming in that article and that RMP might be not be the good guy. Now, suddenly it seems reversed the people trying to stop this increase because of the effect it will have on the economy and people of Wyoming are bad guys and RMP is only doing this increase because the evil fossil fuel companies are charging too much. So the wonderful RMP, who would never have an evil bone in its system, is just a victim of these evil, evil, evil fossil fuel companies. So we the people and businesses of Wyoming are just really more victims of these evil fossils fuels companies because of these increase they are doing to the wonderful RMP. It really doesn’t have anything to do at all with the current D.C. decisions to impact, slow down and to shut down the fossils fuel industry in WY as well as other places. The fact that these fossil fuel companies are having costs added to their production doesn’t matter they are still the evil guys, right? I got it. I just really misunderstood. All those power lines, windmills, solar farms and nuclear plants their parent company want to build will probably not really cost them, RFP, a huge amount of money to build so this has absolutely nothing to do with this insane increase for us. We, the Wyoming people and businesses, agriculture will get all the power from these future projects not other states like California. Now I get it, these huge rate increases are for our own good and the good of Wyomings economy and agriculture. I just really had it all wrong. Wow, I apologize for misunderstanding so much and I am so amazed I didn’t get it sooner. I used to be quite the tree hugger and it went right by me.

  8. While I am far from fully versed in all the facts in this case, if Rocky Mountain Power can demonstrate, through evidence to the WPSC, that this rate increase is due to increased fuel and past purchased power costs, they will have a strong stance.

    I am still paying an upcharge on my Wyoming natural gas bill for the “Texas Extreme Weather Event 2021” that is going to continue for years. Where is THAT money going? To pay a loan taken out to spread the cost of the incredible spike of natural gas prices during the 3-4 day long big freeze in TEXAS in February 2021! In other words, it goes to those that participate in that “free market”, including gas producers that were lucky enough to deliver during that time, and Wall Street. For NOTHING of actual value to me.

    As for “blaming” renewable electricity sources, there could be some justification to explore for any contribution to a rate increase caused by the capital costs to buy and build those facilities and supporting infrastructure. Bear in mind those expenditures and projects were already approved.

    Solar and wind resources have issues to deal with. The largest ones are intermittency (power available when you don’t need it, or not available when you want it), and the dilute nature of the source. Ignoring the footprint of mining, processing, and transporting fuels (and supporting energy requirements), renewable power requires a much larger footprint to gather an equal amount of usable energy compared to a concentrated high temperature fossil or nuclear heat engine. The sustained fireball within a coal-fired furnace is hard to beat! But do reflect on that FACT that about 65% to 70% of the energy released from those sources is unusable, and rejected to a heat sink (a.k.a., our environment).

    All of that said, it seems difficult to complete with an energy source that consumes ZERO fuel to buy, uses almost ZERO water to source and move, produces almost ZERO operational wastes to handle and dispose of, and requires “less heads per MWh” to produce.

  9. Quote from article: “Rocky Mountain Power has testified and submitted data to show that volatile fossil fuel pricing is the primary driver behind its staggering 30% rate hike proposal.”
    And, quote from article: “Most committee members, as well as members of the public who spoke at Public Service Commission meetings, suspect that policies favoring renewable sources of energy over fossil fuels are to blame for rising costs.”
    So, we are letting suspicion get us all riled up about renewables, even though data shows that’s not the issue?
    Time to rid the Legislature of the so-called “freedom” caucus members. What idiocy!

  10. Hopefully we will soon expose the the real truth about renewable energy and the hox about climate change before we are truely in the dark.

  11. coal,oil & gas are important industries to wyoming’s economy.
    the state legislatures job is to promote & encourage these industries.

    1. Didn’t realize it was the job of government to pick specific “preferred” businesses in an industry. Energy is… energy. For the life of me, I can’t understand why so many are against certain energy sources that are clean, create meaningful and well-paying jobs, are clearly where the “free market” is headed, will always be available, and are much harder for governments (especially foreign governments who may be our adversaries) to manipulate and use against us.

  12. Is there anything else certain members of the Wyoming legislature can do to shill for the fossil fuel industry?

  13. No bill is going to solve the cost of energy bill to consumers. In fact higher energy bills are result of short sited planning by the President/Congress/state legislature. If a state complains to congres/president they simply with hold federal funds. It going to get worse folks. This just the beginning