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Ore. commission staff questions PacifiCorp resource plan

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Ore. commission staff questions PacifiCorp resource plan

Staff of the Oregon Public Utility Commission are not on board with PacifiCorp's plans to spend more than $3 billion on wind resources and a new transmission line.

The company in April filed its latest integrated resource plan, or IRP, that, by the end of 2020, calls for the repowering of more than 900 MW of PacifiCorp's existing wind fleet; building 1,100 MW of new wind projects, primarily in Wyoming; and starting construction on a 140-mile segment of its 500-kV Gateway West transmission line.

While PacifiCorp said there is a need for the "Energy Vision 2020" resources, PUC staff in recent comments told regulators that the company has not demonstrated a need for such a large capital investment.

"Staff's analysis demonstrates that risk associated with the proposed projects is significant, and that even if the resources were needed on a capacity, energy, or reliability basis, it is not clear from the IRP that they represent the lowest-cost, lowest-risk option," staff told the commission on Oct. 6.

The commission should not give "acknowledgement" to the projects, staff said. But if regulators decide otherwise, staff proposed that the commission find ways to protect consumers, such as placing a cap on construction costs.

PacifiCorp disagrees with staff's assessment. Etta Lockey, the company's vice president of regulation, said in an interview that the resources are a unique opportunity to provide cost-effective and reliable renewable energy that customers want.

Investing in wind repowering, new wind and transmission will let PacifiCorp avoid more costly market purchases into the future, she said.

"It truly is displacing otherwise more expensive resources on an incredibly cost-effective and least-risk basis," Lockey said.

PacifiCorp is still pushing forward with receiving acknowledgement from the commission.

"It would be truly unfortunate if the commission did not acknowledge these resources because they're so cost-effective for customers, because they're providing the renewable energy that our customers want, that localities in our different states want," she said.

Lockey said it is difficult to know at this time what the next step would be if the commission does not acknowledge the resources, as there are ongoing regulatory proceedings in other states where PacifiCorp does business, and the company also has a request for proposals out right now for new wind resources.

PacifiCorp, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway Energy, will file its comments on the staff recommendation on Oct. 30 and expects that the commission will make a final determination of acknowledgement on Dec. 5. (Oregon PUC Docket LC 67)

PUC staff had previously called on regulators to reject PacifiCorp's request for proposals for up to 1,270 MW of new wind resources, arguing that the IRP docket is the appropriate place to review whether the resources are justified. The commission, however, approved the request.

PacifiCorp issued that request in September seeking cost-competitive bids for up to 1,270 MW of wind energy interconnecting with or delivering to its Wyoming system and any additional wind energy located outside of Wyoming that will reduce system costs and provide net benefits for customers.

Responses to the request for bids are due by Oct. 17 for Wyoming projects and by Oct. 24 for non-Wyoming projects. The company expects to have made final decisions and completed agreements by mid-April 2018.