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Wyo. governor signs bill to help save coal plants

In an attempt to save coal mining jobs, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon signed a bill to require investor-owned utilities to first seek buyers for coal-fired power plants they want to close.

The new law's biggest impact could be on Berkshire Hathaway Energy subsidiary PacifiCorp, which owns 67% of the 2,111-MW Jim Bridger plant, 100% of the 762-MW Dave Johnston plant, 100% of the 357-MW Naughton plant and 80% of the 340-MW Wyodak plant. PacifiCorp closed the 330-MW Naughton unit 3 in January, so only units 1 and 2 are still operating. IDACORP Inc. subsidiary Idaho Power Co. owns 33% of Jim Bridger. In the development process for its 2019 integrated resource plan, PacifiCorp has said it is considering retiring one or more units at Naughton, Jim Bridger and Dave Johnston in Wyoming as early as 2022.

In late February the legislature overwhelmingly passed Senate File 159, sponsored by Sen. Dan Dockstader, R-Afton. During the bill-signing ceremony on March 8, Dockstader said the bill will help save the jobs of 2,227 people employed in the state's coal industry.

But utilities want to close coal plants that are no longer economical, said Connie Wilbert, director of the Wyoming chapter of the Sierra Club. State law requires utilities to provide electricity at least cost to consumers and coal is more expensive than alternatives, including renewables. "This is a clear effort to prop up this coal industry as it is failing, nothing more," she said.

PacifiCorp worked with the bill's sponsor to make sure utility customers are not unfairly impacted by any requirements in the bill, company spokesman Spencer Hall said.

PacifiCorp expects to release its 2019 Integrated Resource Plan in August, but the schedule for plant retirements does not begin until 2022, when the new law takes effect, Hall said. Meanwhile, he said, the company is working with each of the six states it serves, including Wyoming, to address the concerns of each state. Officials in Oregon, Washington and California have said they want to stop importing coal-generated electricity.

"We are trying to address the concerns Wyoming has. They have a difficult energy future and we are trying to figure out how to transition and diversify their economy," Hall said.

The new law does not apply to electric cooperatives, such as Basin Electric Power Cooperative, which own the 1,710-MW Laramie River Station and the 405-MW Dry Fork Station. It does apply to Black Hills Corp. subsidiaries that own 20% of Wyodak, all of the 80-MW Neil Simpson II, and most or all of Wygen 1, Wygen 2 and Wygen 3 totaling 280 MW. MDU Resources Group Inc.'s Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. also owns part of Wygen 3.