Hageman Wants To Give Local Control Of 99-Year-Old Wyoming Hydro Plant

Rep. Hageman’s proposal to transfer ownership of a shuttered 99-year-old Wyoming Bureau of Reclamation hydro power plant to the Midvale Irrigation District in Fremont County passed the U.S. House on Wednesday.

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Pat Maio

February 07, 20244 min read

The Pilot Butte Power Plant
The Pilot Butte Power Plant (Pexels)

Wyoming U.S. Republican Rep. Harriet Hageman wants to transfer ownership of a federally controlled, unused hydropower plant in Fremont County to a local Wyoming irrigation district.

The manager of the irrigation district told Cowboy State Daily that it could sell power from the hydropower plant, built in 1925, once it assumes ownership from the federal government. The surplus power sales could help the district defray some of the rising water expenses for its alfalfa hay, corn and sugar beet customers in the region.

“Agriculture gets hit hard with costs that people don’t realize,” said Steve Lynn, manager of Midvale Irrigation District. “If you raise irrigation rates, it impacts their farming operation, so we want to do whatever we can to keep costs lower “

Hageman sponsored a bill paving the way for the Midvale takeover of the hydropower plant that received key support from the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday.

The House, by unanimous voice vote, passed Hageman’s bill.

The bill would transfer ownership of the Pilot Butte power plant near Pavillion, Wyoming, from the Bureau of Reclamation to the Midvale Irrigation District.

The bill now advances to the Senate for consideration.

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‘Significant’ For Wyoming

Hageman described passage of the bill, the Pilot Butte Power Plant Conveyance Act, as a “significant victory” for Wyoming’s economy.

“This bill will revitalize the currently dormant Pilot Butte Power Plant, provide the Midvale Irrigation District and Fremont County with a valuable energy and revenue producing resource, and relieves the Bureau of Reclamation of the financial and administrative costs associated with maintaining, retrofitting or disposing of the plant,” Hageman said in a prepared statement.

The Congressional Budget Office, which provides budget and economic information to Congress, recently said that the plant, which was originally built in 1925, had not produced electricity since 2008 when the Bureau of Reclamation determined that skyrocketing operation and maintenance costs made electricity generation at the plant economically infeasible.

Over the past year, the Midvale Irrigation District expressed interest in taking over ownership and rehabilitating, and operating the power plant and related facilities to provide power to the district’s 740 water customers.

The Bureau of Reclamation had considered spending up to $6 million to demolish the plant.

There’s Still Life Left

Lynn said that his irrigation district plans to sell electricity generated by the hydropower plant to either High Plains Power Inc., an electric cooperative based jn central Wyoming, or the Western Area Power Administration (WAPA).

WAPA is a western United States power marketing administration with the U.S. Department of Energy that markets hydroelectric power from federal dams operated by the Bureau of Reclamation and other agencies.

“The plan is to get the plant so that it doesn’t go elsewhere,” Lynn said. “We can’t do anything until we own it, like put in new generation equipment and other future rehab work.”

The power plant is located along a main canal that ultimately spills into Morton Lake.

“We want to sell power from it to make money by metering out electricity to WAPA and High Plains,” Lynn said. “The structure definitely needs work.”

Midvale Irrigation manages a 400-mile system of canals on Bureau of Reclamation land. The district’s water supply is derived from the Wind River and its tributaries, a portion of which is stored in Bull Lake and Pilot Butte Reservoirs — facilities also managed by Midvale.

“Local entities such as Midvale know best the intricacies of water management in their area, and adding this infrastructure to their portfolio will help Wyoming optimize water usage, invest profits directly into their community, and provide Wyoming’s citizens with yet another affordable, reliable source of energy,” Hageman said.

U.S. Sen. John Barrasso is shepherding the Senate’s version of the bill.

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.

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Pat Maio

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Pat Maio is a veteran journalist who covers energy for Cowboy State Daily.