Milo Knefelkamp swings into a popular swimming hole on Clear Creek in Buffalo on July 2, 2021, as his sister Lacie Knefelkamp relaxes on the bank. The mercury that day crept above 90 degrees Fahrenheit. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Blistering heat waves across the West helped spike wholesale electric power prices in 2021 as drought conditions sapped hydroelectric capacity. The extreme weather prompted utility giant PacifiCorp to file for rate increases this month across its six-state operating region.

PacifiCorp, which operates as Rocky Mountain Power in Wyoming, has requested a 4% “energy cost adjustment” for its Wyoming customers, totalling $26.3 million. If approved, its average Wyoming residential customer would see his or her monthly bill increase by $1.97 beginning July 1, according to the utility.

The Wyoming Public Service Commission has not yet considered the request. Such adjustments are commonplace among regulated utilities as a way to “true up” estimated power supply costs with actual costs after the fact, sometimes resulting in a rebate to customers.

Why it matters

The extreme weather and climate conditions that spiked electric demand and temporarily drove up wholesale power prices in the West are likely to continue and intensify, according to industry and climate experts, particularly in PacifiCorp’s northwest service territory. 

Although Wyoming has not experienced major power disruptions such as those seen in Texas and California in recent years, Wyoming and the rest of PacifiCorp’s northwest operating region may be increasingly vulnerable to power market disruptions due to human-caused climate change.

History

Customer demand across PacifiCorp’s service region in June and July last year increased by up to 620% during “peak” hours, according to PacifiCorp. Several Wyoming locations broke high temperature records while the Pacific Northwest saw the mercury rise to 116 degrees Fahrenheit, prompting customers to crank up air conditioners. It forced the utility to buy wholesale — or spare — electrical power on the spot market at higher prices. “Continuing drought in the Pacific Northwest has also reduced the availability of low-cost hydroelectric resources,” the company said.

Who said what

“We recognize that no price increase is welcome,” Rocky Mountain Power’s Vice President for Wyoming Sharon Fain said in a prepared statement Monday. “Still, we’re committed to bringing the best value to our customers for their hard-earned dollars, and we’re acutely aware that we provide one of the most essential public services.”

The Wyoming Office of Consumer Advocate will carefully scrutinize PacifiCorp’s requested cost adjustment, according to administrator Bryce Freeman. “Extreme weather events can exacerbate [wholesale power prices],” he said.

Rocky Mountain Power customers in need of assistance can inquire with the company at 1-888-221-7070 or visit Bill Payment Assistance. Energy Share of Wyoming is also available to assist.

Dustin Bleizeffer

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 22 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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  1. My wife and I are retired and live on a modest, but at least for now, an adequate fixed income. Our material wants are few, our money is spent mostly on the necessities.

    We heat with natural gas and can only shake our heads at the rapidly escalating prices.

    Needless to say increases in gasoline and food prices add additional burdens. It will cost me a small fortune to go see my ten year old granddaughter in northern California.

    Our city is going to raise our sewer and water rates. Our local school district needs more money. We are facing a major increase in our property taxes.

    These increases, at least for us, are a death by a thousand cuts.

    How I wish, like utilities and governmental entities I could magically increase our income to cover these additional expenses.

    For cities, counties school districts and public utilities to expect or demand an increase in their rates to cover their increased costs is is a slap in the face to those getting by but concerned about our future well-being.

    My wife and I have to cut back and do without, shouldn’t it be the same for those that supply us heat, electricity, sewer, water etc?

  2. Good morning!
    My photovoltaic system produces more electricity than my household consumes on an annual basis. Summertime, it generates excess kilowatt-hrs during peak air conditioning demand and consumes RMP power at night when base line generation is free-wheeling. At the end of the year RMP pays me for excess production at the “avoided cost” which is about 1-1/2 cents per KWH. This “avoided cost” is a hypothetical unit cost which represents what RMP would pay to create more electrical supply. Now that more peak supply is needed we find that additional supply is actually much more expensive. A more realistic “avoided cost” would include the discussion in this article and could stimulate more demand side management. A wholesale electrical market would also provide more responsive electrical solutions.

    1. That all good. But solar can’t really pay home owner back on investment. Usually a investment has pay back in 5 years but it just not there. There is zero ROI. PLUS one can’t run 240v equipment off it without a huge battery pack that usually only has 5-6 battery life. Maybe at best. Plus that raises home owner insurance. Just as a EV usually bumps it up. They simply are a fire risk.