Unaffordable and unreliable electricity
By Travis Deti
Wyoming has long enjoyed some of the lowest electric rates in the country. Because Wyoming coal is our most affordable and reliable fuel source, it powered our state and nation for nearly 40 years. That began to change around 2010 for many reasons, including skewed market conditions caused by misguided public policy.
Today, I question how one defines “affordable and reliable” electricity.
We all know an energy transition is underway. We also know Wyoming’s economy and its communities are reliant on our extractive industries. At the Wyoming Mining Association, we’ve acknowledged the need for industry to adapt and change. And Wyoming deserves credit for proactively working towards solutions and investing in technologies to help industry meet today’s challenges.
We should also be wise to learn from experiences in other states and nations when energy transitions are rushed to meet unrealistic public policy goals. Because when this happens, chaos ensues. Well friends, chaos has come home to roost right here in Wyoming.
Rocky Mountain Power (RMP), the states largest utility, has proposed to increase electric rates by an average of nearly 22 percent. Large industrial operations, including mining operations across the state, are facing a whopping 33 percent hike between the two rate increases. If approved, these rates will wreak havoc across Wyoming and will be detrimental to mining, oil and gas operations. Yes, the very industries that make up the backbone of the Wyoming economy. In fact, every Wyoming industry will be impacted.
In Wyoming, large industrials comprise more than 70 percent of RMP’s load. And next to labor, electricity is the largest expense for these companies. Increased costs will make Wyoming industry less competitive, forcing companies to limit operations, postpone projects or shut down altogether. And a greater burden will be shifted to residential and commercial customers in future rate cases.
We all need to pay attention. As customers, we should all tell Rocky Mountain Power the rush to move to less reliable, more expensive energy sources is too much, too soon. This accelerated transition hurts families, hurts communities and hurts businesses. In short, this rate increase hurts Wyoming. An increase of this magnitude is inviting chaos.
RMP blames rising coal and natural gas prices combined with a need to buy power from the wholesale market to balance system demand. The system needs balance because renewable integration – too fast, too soon – has caused grid instability and unreliability. Quoting directly from the rate filing, “If the rates in this case were based solely upon historical investment levels and costs, the Company would not have an opportunity to earn the authorized ROE (return on equity).”
Billions have spent to build out less reliable renewable energy, while buying power on the costly spot market to back it up when the sun doesn’t shine or the wind doesn’t blow, all of which is passed directly onto the customer.
Adding further insult to injury, RMP is also proposing to eliminate the 80/20 cost sharing band. Currently, when fuel cost over-runs occur, RMP pays 20 percent of that cost while Wyoming customers pay 80 percent. RMP is looking to shift 100 percent of that cost burden onto the customer. In this time of sky high inflation and rising basic living costs, this is simply not sustainable.
Folks, this is just the first of many rate increases to come as RMP embraces the so-called green energy transition. It is time for customers – all of us – to say “NO” to their plans and demand a more reasonable approach that doesn’t put families, businesses and Wyoming’s core industries in the crosshairs. I would encourage every RMP customer to contact the Wyoming Public Service Commission to make their voice heard at 307-777-7427 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Change is often inevitable, but an energy transition that upends economic stability is the definition of chaos. It is time for Rocky Mountain Power to think about their customers.
Travis Deti is the Executive Director of the Wyoming Mining Association