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Wyoming weighs heavier scrutiny of resource plans in wake of PacifiCorp filing

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Wyoming weighs heavier scrutiny of resource plans in wake of PacifiCorp filing

Wyoming regulators propose to revise their rules to expand oversight of utility integrated resource plans in the wake of PacifiCorp's plan, which calls for procuring up to 1,270 MW of wind resources and a new 140-mile transmission line in the state.

The state Public Service Commission on Aug. 11 announced its intent to revise its rules to extend its oversight of utility resource plans, known as IRPs, to require action plans that set forth specific efforts a utility intends to take in the early years of the 20-year plans.

Also, instead of merely accepting IRPs for filing as is the commission's current practice, the PSC proposes to adopt a process to take comments from interested parties to help it determine whether to open formal investigations. Finally, the revised rule would provide for a more formal investigation and hearing of an IRP when warranted.

The commission said its rule amendment proposal is the result of the Wyoming Industrial Energy Consumers' comments concerning PacifiCorp's 2017 IRP. WIEC urged the PSC to scrutinize the utility's plans for $3.5 billion in investments in wind and transmission facilities in the state that are not proposed to serve just Wyoming customers.

"We do not expect the proposed rule to affect the current 2017 IRP," PacifiCorp spokesman David Eskelsen said by email.

The industrial group's proposal for additional PSC scrutiny of PacifiCorp's resource planning reflects a conflict in PacifiCorp's multistate service territory between coal- and gas-producing states of Wyoming and Utah in its Rocky Mountain Power division and the growing support for and use of renewable energy generation in Washington, Oregon and California in the company's Pacific Power division.

The group sees a marked shift from PacifiCorp's 2015 IRP, in which the company selected a preferred cost-effective portfolio based on meeting energy and capacity needs, to the current plan to move to a cleaner energy future with near-term investments.

"The company's massive near-term spending plan reflects a new reality — alternative energy policies from outside Wyoming are shaping the future of PacifiCorp's system. Wyoming ratepayers should not be forced to subsidize these state policies," WIEC said.

PacifiCorp certainly would not invest $3.5 billion in wind generation and transmission facilities just to meet Wyoming's energy and demand needs, so the commission should be vigilant in protecting Wyoming customers against any increase in rates for resources that would be acquired solely to meet another state's renewables requirements, WIEC continued. PacifiCorp is the dominant electric utility in Wyoming, serving more than 140,000 customers in the sparsely populated state. Overall, the company serves about 1.8 million electric customers in six states.

The industrial group characterized PacifiCorp's plans as speculative because the company calls for pursuit of a time-sensitive opportunity to secure more federal wind production tax credits with investments that are not driven by the need for new resources but instead are based on predictions of future gas, power and carbon prices, which PacifiCorp has consistently overestimated in past IRPs, WIEC contended.

The PSC appears to have taken WIEC's arguments to heart, saying in its notice it is proposing to revise the IRP rule as the consumer group has proposed. "The Commission is proposing to revise Chapter 3, Section 33, to expand its oversight of IRPs filed by public utilities under its jurisdiction, as proposed by WIEC," the notice said.

The regulators set a public hearing for Nov. 20, saying they would welcome all comments and suggestions, including those that would advocate against amending the rule.

PacifiCorp filed its IRP on April 4 with the PSC, in which it described a proposed solicitation of new wind resources capable of delivering energy and capacity across the Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary's transmission system in Wyoming. (Docket No. 20000-512-EA-17)