PacifiCorp says the carbon capture technology will cost customers a lot, but others disagree

One of Wyoming’s major electric providers says complying with the state law could result in huge costs for customers.

Pacificorp, also known as Rocky Mountain Power, recently testified to Wyoming Public Service Commission regarding a 2020 State Law which requires utilities to begin incorporating some carbon capture technology into their coal plants. Some see carbon capture as a way to meet climate goals while using coal.

Since the law’s passage, Wyoming’s major public utilities, PacifiCorp and Black Hills Energy, have been exploring the logistics and viability of deploying the technology. The commission was tasked by the legislature with reviewing all proposals and setting specific standards for the law.

PacifiCorp found that the carbon technology would work best in three of its coal units – Dave Johnson’s Unit 4 and Jim Bridger’s Units 3 and 4. However, the company said that currently implementing any carbon capture technology is not economically viable, which is similar to indications that Black Hills Energy presented earlier in October.

“We prefer low cost, low risk. We want to keep the impacts to our customers minimal,” said James Owen, Vice President of Environmental Fuels and Mining for PacifiCorp.

Installing the technology could come at a high price for Wyoming customers, as they would have to help cover transition costs that could reach $1 billion per unit. PacifiCorp is currently a six-state system, meaning customers in all states share the cost of generating electricity; however, with carbon capture, not all other states are willing to help foot the bill. PacifiCorp testified that Utah probably won’t help with the costs, which eliminated 40 percent of the company’s customer base. So because the technology is mandatory in Wyoming, it could land on 140,000 payers in Wyoming.

In addition, PacifiCorp said it could reduce plant reliability by 25 percent because carbon capture requires a lot of extra energy to operate.

But Glenrock Energy, a Wyoming oil company, argues that carbon capture is viable and that Glenrock can absorb some of the additional costs from utility customers. Glenrock has testified that it will fund the costs at one of Pacificorp’s units because the captured carbon can be used to extract more oil. Terrence Manning, CEO of Glenrock, said that in this case utility customers would not have to foot the bill.

“Glenrock’s proposal never included Wyoming taxes to be assessed on $1 of the capital and operating and maintenance costs, pipeline transportation costs, increased oil recovery costs, or geological capture costs associated with facility deployment for carbon capture at the Dave Johnson Facility,” Manning said.

PacifiCorp emphasized that the company is not opposed to carbon capture if the economics make more sense in the future. Right now, Owens said coal is volatile and not the company’s primary source of energy, rather it depends primarily on renewables.

“When the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing and those renewable resources are down, then we ramp our (coal-fired) plant back up,” he said. “So essentially the coal fleet is following the renewable load.”

In addition, PacifiCorp focuses on The TerraPower nuclear power plant in Kemerer. PacifiCorp plans to take ownership of the plant when it is fully operational. It is expected to go online in 2028.

PacifiCorp is asking the commission to extend the deadline for its final report on the implementation of carbon capture from March 2023 to 2024, and in the meantime set the portfolio standard for coal produced from a carbon capture facility at 0 percent. The committee will discuss in the coming weeks.

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