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.
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.