Don Quixote eyes a wind turbine. (Luis Ricardo Ramos/Creative Commons via Flickr)

Sen. Charles Scott (R-Casper) says he wants to do “some radical things” to change Wyoming’s energy policy.


But what’s so radical about abandoning free-market principles and ignoring the facts to suppress anything and everything that might possibly compete with fossil fuels? The Legislature has been doing that for years. Perhaps the only thing “radical” about Scott’s most recent demonization of renewables is his unabashed disregard for the available data.

Without providing any evidence, Scott charged that a utility’s proposed 30% electric rate hike is a result of Wyoming being “overloaded with the wind and the solar.” That despite Rocky Mountain Power’s explanation that the requested price increases are “driven largely by increased market prices for power and natural gas, increased contract prices for coal and coal supply limitations.” 

Why, after all, should the longest-serving legislator in Wyoming history help his constituents by addressing the actual problem when he could, instead, harness the hysterical public reaction to two proposed rate hikes to score political points and pummel the reliably unpopular bogeyman of renewable energy?

Scott told the Joint Corporations, Elections and Political Subdivisions  Committee he will draft a bill to impose a one-year moratorium on yet-to-be-permitted industrial wind and solar energy projects that primarily serve customers outside Wyoming. 

What would that accomplish? Nothing positive, but it would further hamstring Wyoming’s ability to compete in the growing market for green energy and inhibit our fight against the human-caused climate change that’s literally killing the planet. 

Rather than seize on the demand for wind and solar, the Wyoming Legislature once approved funds to sue other states for exercising their right to only buy electricity generated from renewable resources. Put another way, Republican lawmakers used state funds to interfere with the free-market.

While incongruous with the right’s love affair with laissez-faire capitalism, that’s the mindset that led Rep. Clark Stith (R-Rock Springs) to claim at a Public Service Commission hearing in Casper last month that Rocky Mountain Power’s massive rate hike requests are due to the company’s “radical left-wing agenda” to invest in renewable energy. That’s a populist viewpoint guaranteed to play well in most of Wyoming, but it’s not true.

I don’t blame RMP’s customers for being upset about a combined 30% rate increase. For residential customers, the total monthly increase would be about $20. Commercial customers will pay even more. 

But spurred on by those forever intent on protecting coal interests, and  despite all evidence to the contrary, politicians and the public are blaming the wrong industries. It’s absurd to suggest the economic pain is caused by wind and solar energy.

Rocky Mountain has filed for two rate hikes. The largest is an average 21.6% annual increase to set base rates for the next several years, to recover $140.2 million.

The second request is for a temporary average rate increase of 7.6% to recover $50.3 million of about $90 million in unexpected fuel costs and power purchase overruns due to extreme heat, cold and drought last year. It is set to expire next July.

Rocky Mountain is a regulated utility but also a monopoly, and it’s thriving. Its proposed massive rate hike asks the Public Service Commission to allow it to earn a more-than-healthy 10.3% maximum rate of return, plus make customers responsible for 100% of fuel cost overruns, instead of the current 80%.

The utility will probably justify a rate increase because it was forced to pay premium prices for coal and gas, but the commission will likely reduce it to provide some relief for consumers.

The committee knows it’s inaccurate to point its collective finger at renewable energy as the culprit, especially since the Legislature has done everything it can to force Rocky Mountain to keep operating coal-fired power plants at Wyoming ratepayers’ expense. That includes passing a law to require utilities to find a third-party buyer for aging coal-fired plants that are too costly and inefficient.

But it’s no surprise conservatives who claim to value free market enterprise above all else are happy to create economic winners and losers. Severance taxes on the coal industry have long paid state government’s bills, but coal has no chance to return to its past glory. Coal once comprised more than half of utility-scale electricity generation, but it’s dropped to less than 20%. Still, lawmakers won’t let go.

The Legislature has also mandated that before publicly regulated utilities can retire coal units, they are required to first analyze the cost of retrofitting them using carbon capture, use and sequestration technologies. That government mandate comes with an enormous price tag that (guess what!) gets passed along to the utilities’ customers.

But there are no carbon capture projects that have proven to be commercially viable in the U.S., and none on the horizon any time soon.

Meanwhile, the cost of wind and solar has significantly dropped. An analysis by Energy Innovation in 2019 found that 62% of coal plants were more expensive to operate compared to building new wind or solar projects in the same communities or regions. 

In January, a new report by the think tank said the figure is now 99%, with only one coal plant — Dry Fork Station near Gillette — that’s less expensive.

Local solar and wind projects benefit from the Inflation Reduction Act’s “energy community” tax credit bonuses, which help offset losses due to local siting constraints. Battery storage capacity can be financed with the savings from switching to local clean energy.

Energy Innovations projected a coal-to-clean energy transition is worth a total of $589 billion, mostly in red states like Wyoming. Rocky Mountain Power spokesman David Eskelsen said his company’s shift to more renewable sources of energy, plus federal production tax credits, has already saved Wyoming ratepayers an estimated $85.4 million.

Of course, such news only fuels renewable energy critics’ insistence that President Joe Biden’s administration is responsible for waging a so-called “war on coal”. For their survival, they can’t let that narrative change.

Lawmakers don’t want anyone — especially those who keep campaign donations flowing and re-electing them — to realize a transition from coal to clean energy will result in much better air quality, new construction jobs, retrained permanent workers and long-term sustainable tax revenue to replace what’s disappearing. They prey on the fears of coal communities, which are understandably nervous about the future.

“Regulators should require power plant owners and operators to re-evaluate their planning and procurement, now taking IRA programs into account, while prioritizing a smooth transition for workers and communities,” a Forbes analysis of the report advised.

That’s the last thing coal boosters want to see.

Scott and other legislators at the Joint Corporations panel’s hearing said they plan to draft a host of anti-renewable energy bills to be discussed at its Oct. 26-27 meeting in Cheyenne.

In addition to Scott’s proposed moratorium on wind and solar projects, several committee members suggested Wyoming should get even with states that only want to purchase clean energy.

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

Scott wants to make sure the Public Service Commission has the authority to ensure Wyoming ratepayers are not overcharged for the cost of decommissioning coal-fired power plants. He wants to amend a 2020 law that forces utilities to retrofit coal-fired power plants with carbon capture technology.

Who pays now? Rocky Mountain Power and Black Hills Power customers are burdened by what Scott calls a total $5.4 million “carbon capture compliance” surcharge. Of course they are.

Scott wants to shift the cost to utilities and their investors. He’s right about this one, but I’m anxious to hear the debate on the bill. The senator and others are swift to blame renewable energy for supposedly sticking it to ratepayers. But will they ever admit it was the GOP-controlled Legislature that shoved carbon capture down the throats of utilities at the expense of customers?

Even if they pass Scott’s amendment, I don’t think most lawmakers will show the level of honesty to cop to that egregious mistake.

Veteran Wyoming journalist Kerry Drake has covered Wyoming for more than four decades, previously as a reporter and editor for the Wyoming Tribune-Eagle and Casper Star-Tribune. He lives in Cheyenne and...

Join the Conversation


Want to join the discussion? Fantastic, here are the ground rules: * Provide your full name — no pseudonyms. WyoFile stands behind everything we publish and expects commenters to do the same. * No personal attacks, profanity, discriminatory language or threats. Keep it clean, civil and on topic. *WyoFile does not fact check every comment but, when noticed, submissions containing clear misinformation, demonstrably false statements of fact or links to sites trafficking in such will not be posted. *Individual commenters are limited to three comments per story, including replies.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

  1. Or perhaps the Wyoming government should behave according to the constitution. PART 2

    Suppose I choose to plant a wind farm in my back yard (2 small wind turbines) And a solar farm on my roof? I can produce electricity using my own capital. When I produce excess electricity it flows onto the grid. Why does the Wyoming Public Service Commission tell the citizen who he can sell power to and for what price?

    If consumers in California can buy electricity from Wyoming and they want my “green” electricity. Why can’t I sell to Rocky Mountain Power? Or if South Dakota consumers want my “green” electricity, why can’t I sell my electricity to Black Hills Energy?

    Wyoming’s positions on Consumers and Produces trapped in monopolistic maps determined by unelected bureaucrat appointees is contrary to the Wyoming constitution. The Wyoming PSC is funded by the corporations they protect with monopoly benefits.

    Time for the legislature to rethink this system.

  2. Or perhaps the Wyoming government should behave according to the constitution.

    Article 1, Section 30 (Declaration of Rights)
    Perpetuities and monopolies are contrary to the genius of a free
    state, and shall not be allowed. Corporations being creatures of
    the state, endowed for the public good with a portion of its
    sovereign powers, must be subject to its control.

    Each Utility regulated by the Wyoming Public Service Commission is given an area for which the utility operates as a MONOPOLY. Whether providing Gas, electricity, telecommunication or water, you have a spot on the map where consumers simply cannot choose their utility. The Certified Utility maps are in the link below.

    To Lee A. Campbell’s point, that it is extremely hard to calculate the cost of producing electricity. Sir, it would not matter if we simply followed the constitution, then consumers could choose the service they like best. They like the easy billing of utility A… go with utility A… lowest price then utility B. Here in in Wyoming we get the choice provided to us by the Wyoming Public Service Commission. Would you allow a panel of three appointed officials to make your choice for dinner tonight? Then why are they choosing who will provide you with power to light your house? Heat your house?

    Contrast this to say a small island off the Texas coast called Galveston. Here are your choices for electricity there.

    Giving consumers choices is the Wyoming citizens constitutional right. And you will not have to calculate all the ways and means of electrical generation. The market and free enterprise can solve those problems.

  3. So you want my name as you hide behind a pseudonym. If you want others to abide you might practice what you preach. That said this article is no more than a fossil fuel hater lying to us. That increase WILL be used to build more facilities not to pay bills. All we have to do is look at the history of renewables in Colorado to see exactly what will be done.

  4. It is extremely difficult to ascertain the true cost of generating electricity by source when there is a mix of generators; that is, wind turbine and solar are mixed in with coal fired power generation. i calculated some broad costs of energy based on MMBTU generated which is the common denominator but these costs are extremely variable and not to be taken as fact. I found:
    Natural gas = $7.10 per MMBTU
    Electricity = $ 28.75 per MMBTU
    Propane @ 3.00= $ 32.70 per MMBTU
    Coal at 63.00 = $ 3.31 per MMBTU
    Hydroelectric = didn’t calculate
    Nuclear = didn’t calculate
    Wind turbine = didn’t calculate
    Solar = didn’t calculate
    But these broad energy costs probably don’t factor in environmental and reclamation costs. The point is, its almost impossible for most of us to determine the true cost of energy generation other than to look at our monthly power bill. Energy in all forms must be converted to the common denominator MMBTU or else we’re comparing apples and oranges – only sophisticated think tanks and advanced comprehensive calculations by unbiased experts can come close to the true costs in MMBTU with all associated costs such as reclamation and environmental damage included and it ain’t easy.

    1. The only reason this article exists is because the feds have grossly over subsidized intermittent, “green” aka, “not in my backyard” energy because it can’t compete on equal footing with always on, reliable oil and natural gas. Then the author criticizes state politicians who, through no error of their own regarding the politicization of “green” energy at a national level, have to deal with the fallout from the bad policies in Washington led by liberals, who made the up the whole “green” revolution for political gain. In other words, DC and liberal states moved it from a more competitive “free market”. Then since it’s no longer competitive and all the rules of competition have been broken by liberals they rip on conservatives for not being able to be competitive. First rule when a liberal is ripping on conservatives. Take a step back and see how they’re guilty of the same thing they’re blaming the accused of, usually just worse, so they need to yell over their hypocrisy hoping you don’t notice.

  5. Kerry you’re wrong. Rocky Mountain has filed for two rate hikes. The largest is an average 21.6% annual increase to set base rates for the next several years, to recover $140.2 million. RMPs PUC application states:

    “Primary Drivers
    9. The Company’s requested rate increase in this case is primarily driven by:
    (1) continued capital investments including, the Gateway South, Gateway West Segment D.1 transmission lines and the Rock Creek I wind project, along with the Foote Creek II-IV and Rock River I wind repowering projects, which are required in order for the Company to meet its
    obligation to serve its customers and includes an associated rate of return of 7.60 percent on all capital investments; and (2) NPC.”

  6. My reaction when I read the rate hike proposal was exactly as your 2nd paragraph. I quickly went back up in the article to see if the power company made that statement, which they didn’t. It’s the usual flagrant misinformation tactic being used by the right. If one even glances on the Fox News channel, they will hear the same crap. As you said Kerry, dependence on their political funding determines their biased reporting. Maybe when earth conscious utilities start matching contributions, we might see this ultra conservative attitude in Wyoming politics change.
    Thanks for your excellent insight reporting WyoFile and Kerry Drake.

  7. Wind and solar are the culprits. They are renewable and infinite whereas carbon sources are finite. Once it is burned all that is left is waste, ash and air pollution. Every day the sun comes up and the winds blow in Wyoming. Wyoming was the only state that taxes renewable. Had it not been for the taxes received in property taxes Uinta county the county revenue would have been in deep trouble after Amoco and Chevron pulled out of the county after the oil was depleted. Oil prices are determined by OPEC. Uinta County could have doubled it revenue had it accepted a hundred and eighty windmills years ago. The wind company that wanted to put in the new wells had invested in the infrastructure with a power line and distribution system and put in windmills south of the interstate. Everything was in place and a lot of money had been spent with infrastructure getting ready for the new windmills. I was there the day the county zoned out the new windmills. I remember the windmill representative was livid and frustrated. He promised that he would do everything in his power to make sure no more windmills would be erected in Uinta County. That was twenty years ago. Pacific Power has twice tried to put windmills in Uinta County without success since then. I watched as windmills were built on the first divide and the naysayers said they would be outdated and gone by now. Those windmills have been upgraded a couple of times and are still going around providing property taxes and clean power. Wind and solar are providing power while old power plants are slowly becoming outdated and the source of their coal power is disappearing, no longer cost-effective and being depleted.

  8. Fossil fuels Fossil thinking.
    ‘ Plus ça change, plus c’est la même’** should be Wyoming’s state sanctioned energy policy motto.

    ** the more things change, the more they remain the same

    1. Dewey. Many factors go into KW cost. Right now a lot of coal fired power plants are being decommissioned. No wind turbine farm has been. Although 1 wind farm in minnosota is asking for permission to do so. After 12 years I believe it is. 2 solar farms have been destroyed in by Scottsbluff neb. May or may not be rebuilt. These costs have not been factored in yet. Wind turbine blades are being replaced at 2% per year right now. Final costs there are not determined yet either as 10’s of thousands of blades are being stacked up for recycling. At Sweetwater Texas and at Newton Iowa. Feel free to read about that future multi million $$$ cleanup building. No Technologies exsist to recycle these old blades. Same is happening with EV batteries and battery packs. Stacking up waiting on Technology that likely will never happen. Coal fired power plants last 40 years or more. Wind turbines 10-15 years. Solar farms. Likely same life span. Dewey solar farms take up HUGE FOOTPRINT AND still never get close to a coal power plant. Plus wind/solar never operate 24-7-365 days a year. You sir need to gather your numbers instead of criticizing me for my opinion. Is there place for wind/solar? Absolutely! But lot of reliability issues remain and will remain for years to come on renewables. O by way Dewey. U K’s off shore wind farm is not viable as they found out. Offshore wind turbines will be more of maintenance nightmare. Salt water and electricity just don’t work well. Lot of corrosion on electric parts. Lot of it. Keep dreaming all. But also keep watching electrical rates go up as well. We witnessing the start of it. It will get worse. Stores of all shape & sizes will have to raise prices to pay for higher utility bills.

      1. Larry , nearly everything you assert here can be shown to be otherwise. I just don’t feel like dissecting it all. You should just look into how successful Denmark has been in swearing off fossil fuels in favor of alternative energy , beginning 50 years ago. The Danes turbines are nor corroding and doing just fine. Turbine blades are 99 percent recylable now. In fact the entire wind generator is recyclable. Solar is winning on all fronts. All the lithium metal in a diminishing EV car battery or any lithium battery can be reclaimed, since the lithium metal is not consumed at all. But lithium is no longer the best choice for rechargeable heavy duty power packs as nickel-iron-sulfur and other technologies are evolving into production.
        Bottom line: Coal is dying away . Wyoming needs to come out of denial about all of this…

  9. Wind is now the cheapest form of electricity, second is solar, third is gas. This is without any government subsidies. Even though Wyoming has the country’s best wind, our politicians have allowed other states reap most of the economic benefits.

  10. Prices rise when demand is high and supply is low; adding wind and solar generated power to the mix increases the supply. Such economic basics are incomprehensible to Wyoming’s GQP. The high price of natural gas is the biggest driver of rate increases. Has anyone noticed that their Black Hill energy bills are higher too? Obviously, Rocky Mountain Power is not at fault for that. As for Charles Scott, it is obvious that when he was a boy in school, he rode the short bus. The issues facing our state will never be solved as long as Wyoming continues electing the least capable among us .

    1. The most liberal estimate of bird deaths from wind turbines is 700,000 per year. ( Source: MIT ) Or put another way , Bird deaths from wind turbine blades amount to 0.0175 percent of all causes of bird mortality. But dang those wind turbines.
      Housecats kill a couple billion birds every year , but that cats aren’t keeping score. Darn those wind turbines. Somewhere between 12 and 64 million birds die from being fried by existing powerlines. Gonna blame the wind turbines for that , too ? How about the 990 million birds that die from flying into glass windows – a thousand times as many as die from turbines ?

      Attempts to pin blame for huge numbers of bird deaths on wind turbines is one of the most disingenuous examples of disinformation employed by the right wing propagandists . Alternate facts are not facts.

  11. No. He is wrong. These high utility bills are due to the transition to renewables. Now all wind turbines over 10 years of age need blades replaced. Many wind turbines don’t generate electricity because they need extensive maintenance. It cheaper to put new tower up then it is to pull turbine off tower. Renewable will always be higher cost.