Rocky Mountain Power is the largest electric utility provider in Wyoming. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

Heat waves, extreme weather and drought spiked Rocky Mountain Power’s fuel costs and wholesale power purchase prices in 2022, prompting it to request a rate increase of $50.3 million for its Wyoming customers, the company said.

The request is part of the utility’s annual energy cost-rate adjustment now pending before the Wyoming Public Service Commission. If approved as proposed, the adjustment would take effect July 1 and result in an increase of about $3.52 per month for the average residential household, according to RMP, Wyoming’s largest electric utility.

“Sharply higher prices in the wholesale power market during the severe summer weather of 2022 are responsible for nearly half of Wyoming’s share of increased power costs,” RMP’s Net Power Cost Specialist Jack Painter said in a prepared statement.

Drought conditions resulted in a 34% reduction of hydroelectric power generation, the company said. Fuel prices for natural gas-fired power generation facilities spiked due to extreme cold weather, as well. Natural gas cost four times as much in December 2022 as in December 2021, the company said.

Changing trends

RMP also cited extreme weather in its April 2022 energy cost adjustment request and was approved for a 3.8% increase in Wyoming, totalling $23.6 million.

Extreme weather was to blame for wholesale electricity price spikes at most major trading hubs across the U.S. in 2022, including the six-state operating region where RMP’s parent company PacifiCorp serves customers, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. 

A windsock warns motorists of potentially dangerous conditions amid extreme weather south of Casper in December 2021. (Dustin Bleizeffer/WyoFile)

“In addition to higher natural gas prices and severe weather in 2022, railroad and coal mine labor shortages constrained coal supply and delivery to power plants throughout the summer, limiting utility operators’ ability to switch from relatively expensive natural gas to cheaper coal-fired generation,” the EIA stated in January.

Human-caused climate change is expected to continue to drive extreme weather events, exposing ratepayers to volatile energy markets, according to industry and climate experts.

So why do ratepayers end up footing the bill for “unexpected” weather events, particularly in places like Wyoming where weather extremes are the norm in light of climate change?

“Extreme weather is becoming more and more of a consideration on a day-to-day basis,” Wyoming Consumer Advocate Anthony Ornelas said.

Utilities, including those that operate in Wyoming, are taking new weather patterns into consideration, he said. Historically, forecasting such events was based on weather data from, say, the past 30 years. Both utilities and regulatory authorities are refining such analysis taking climate change into consideration.

Wyoming’s annual mean temperature has increased 2.2 degrees Fahrenheit from 1920 to 2020. (Statewide time series/National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Centers for Environmental Information)

“[Utilities are] trying to plan their systems with a better understanding of extreme weather events, as well as integration of renewable energy,” Ornelas said.

Rate scrutiny

As a regulated monopoly, utilities are allowed to tap ratepayers for actual expenses on a 1-to-1 ratio, generally speaking, according to Ornelas. Those expense claims are highly scrutinized by not only the Office of Consumer Advocate and the Public Service Commission, but by multiple intervening parties.

Regulated utilities are allowed to earn profits, Ornelas said, but those are also highly scrutinized and regulated.

“We have had a few instances in the last five or six years where [a] company was found to be over-earning and there were investigations and there were some refunds back to customers,” Ornelas said. 

Ratepayers are also sometimes tapped for special surcharges. For example, RMP was recently granted approval to impose a 0.3% “carbon capture compliance” surcharge to cover the cost of complying with Wyoming’s own mandate to consider retrofitting its coal-fired power plants in the state with carbon capture, use and sequestration technologies.

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. Could WyoFile please look into the $.11 per therm surcharge levied by BHP to make up for the Texas freeze for which wind and solar was blamed?

  2. I encourage people to be cautious about “green energy.” Take a look at what natural resources are needed to make your electric car! Cobalt is essential to lithium, and it is mined in the Congo on the backs of child labor, while raping the earth!

    1. I encourage you to look into the actual costs of “black energy ” while yer at it. Americans have never paid the full true cost of hydrocarbon fuel at the pump or the meter , nor fully grasped the secondary costs of fossil fuels. We were fooled by all the moneyspeak.

  3. When I sit in my backyard and look at all the roofs that could be generating solar power, I’m amazed at the short sightedness of RMP and the state PUC for leaving all the low hanging fruit on the roofs instead of doing something that could actually help the Wyoming economy, RMP, and the ratepayers fight the immediate effects of a changing environment. If RMP is anything like Xcel Energy of Colorado, they are experiencing record profits that they are not sharing with the ratepayers of the state of Wyoming. It’s time to deal with the issue.

  4. If the entire grid relied more on localized renewable power, including rooftop solar, it would be much less vulnerable to extreme weather.

    1. Mr. Cooper. Roof top energy is not answer during bad weather events. 1” of snow covers solar panels and shuts them down till snow melts. I see it time and time again even here in Colo. Plus the solar would have the have battery back up. Most houses don’t have room for fire proof room to house the battery’s. There in now a REAL problem with EV’s in garages burning and even explosions. Just recently a garage in Colo was destroyed by exploding battery out a jeep hybred. Also real problems with EV bikes/scooters etc. even the Amish are having fires with Electric bikes. Home insurance is going to rise dramatically Mr. Cooper. Give me coal fired power plant any day of the week. We have the technology to harness the emissions. Plus coal is good paying jobs. Stop falling for the global warming crap. It huge myth. Earth warms/cools naturally. Has for eons.

  5. Utility bills will continue to worse folks. Much worse. More fossil fuel plants come off line and more “Green Energy” comes on. Wind power is proving out to be non profitable and will continue to be so. Hang on folks it going to get worse as far as utility expenses go.

  6. this is good news since the energy supply is going to be more dependent on solar & wind.
    rates will continue to go up every year until people will be forced to make “choices “.
    heat or eat
    cool or drink !
    difficult to sit back & watch democrats inflict as much economic pain as humanly possible on citizens.

    1. I had to go back and read the news item again because I had missed the reference to Democrats “inflicting as much economic pain as possible on the citizens”. Just as I thought, there was no indication that it was the fault of anyone in particular and appears that Rocky Mountain Power blames the wicked wild winter weather on most of the problem. Since only the Wizard of Oz has ever claimed to control the weather I suppose we should just blame him if we need to blame anyone.

      1. Looks to me like RMP is just heading in the same direction as PG&E in California .There is no end to how many things they can come up with to increase your utility bills. And the. P.S.C.just agrees every time the power companys want to increase to whatever the percentage they think they. can away with. So just hold on folks ,as they say ,You ain,t seen nothing yet.