(Riverton, WY) The second public hearing session of the Wyoming Public Service Commission’s public hearings on Rocky Mountain Power’s rate hikes convened at CWC and via Zoom on Monday evening, with elected officials, business owners, and Fremont County residents voicing strong disapproval.
The first public hearing was held in Casper, where the WPSC was faced with the same opposition, including claims that the rate increase would greatly impact Wyoming’s local businesses and economies, hurt those who are on low/fixed incomes, and would only serve the company’s shareholders.
On Monday, the WPSC invited elected officials to speak first, with Fremont County citizens then weighing in with their own concerns and comments.
“It’s going to destroy them…”
Senator Tim Salazar said that many of his constituents are seniors and those living on fixed incomes, who say that if the rate increase goes into effect, they’ll have to choose between paying the increase versus paying their prescription drugs.
“This rate increase will destroy many of the families that I represent,” he said. “I’m opposed to this rate increase…any prudent person looking at the facts can see this is price gouging…it’s going to destroy them, it’s going to destroy their households and I truly believe it’s severely going to hurt our small business community. I fully understand with prices going up on food and gas and everything else, that rate increases do occur. I’m not opposed to rate increases. I’m opposed to this type of great increased gouging…for people to have to determine now, whether they’re going to pay their electric bill or whether they’re going to skip their prescription drug for one month is outrageous.”
The last straw
House Representative Sarah Penn said that her constituents were “deeply concerned” about how the increase would impact both long-term and day-to-day budgets.
“How is this going to be impacting the budgets of our households, our businesses, our schools, our local governments and our industries?” Penn said. “The company has a burden of proof to show the necessity of this rate increase. An issue as far-reaching of this magnitude deserves more details, the citizens deserve to know where this is needed and why the reason for this rate increase.”
Penn also said that [state] statute says the decision “must be reasonable and must be consistent with Wyoming public interest,” she said. “How can it meet those requirements in the current economic situation that we find ourselves…a situation where right now our own Federal government is looking to ban the use of gas appliances, moving to all-electric? What about the skyrocketing inflation in our property taxes that we haven’t seen to this level before? Increasing fuel taxes…all of these things and others are coming together to where this may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back in a very real and unfortunate way. So at what point do we say that enough is enough?”
Not the customer’s fault
House Representative Lloyd Larsen said that one concern was about the investment of transmission lines that will be carrying renewable generation sources to markets outside of Wyoming.
“It’s not Wyoming residents that are demanding that type of generation,” Larsen said. “So if Oregon, Washington, Northern California…want electricity from Wyoming wind, we’re happy to provide the wind, we’re happy to provide the power. But if that’s what they want, then let their ratepayers bear the burden of those assets.”
Larsen also referred to the rate adjustments for fuel costs in 2022 which were the highest in history, with natural gas going out of Powell at a rate of $10/Mcf (one thousand cubic feet).
“Why didn’t they have their nominations for their electrical generation needs in place at a lower cost in anticipation of fluctuation?” Larsen said. “…It’s really nice when the wind’s blowing and generating electricity. But when it’s not, then you’ve got to get it from the traditional baseload. So when they had over-relied on the dispatch of the ability of renewables and started the early retirement of the coal-fired plants…when the wind wasn’t blowing, then they did need to generate from coal and natural gas. Then they’re forced to go to the spot market and buy coal and natural gas at a higher price.”
“I don’t know if that’s the customer’s fault,” Larson continued. “They’ve got the backroom guys that are very smart and understand these markets. They made the wrong calculation, and I think they need to bear the burden of those costs and not the ratepayers…I hope the commission feels that it’s inappropriate to assist the construction of new assets and the payment of those new assets on the citizens of Wyoming.”
The health and welfare of the people
“We have a state, particularly in this county, where suicide is number one here,” said House Representative Pepper Ottman. “Why is that? It’s because we were doing lots of things with gas and coal and oil, and that’s been taken away. Those jobs have been taken, those homes have been ripped apart, and people do not have the finances to pay for things…and what happens is, that they are consistently increasing. The mental health situation here in the state is very, very important…”
“I also want to say that, with 48 school districts within the state of Wyoming, you can just imagine the increase of cost to those districts for all those buildings,” Ottman continued. “There’s hospitals, the businesses, grocery stores, the refrigeration units…so it is going to be phenomenal, and every bit of that will come back on the 500,000 in Wyoming.”
A comparison of Utah’s energy efficiency programs
Kara Colovich of the Lander Climate Action Network is an advocate of supporting increasing the net metering allowance for public institutions, local governments, and public higher education.
“Any money that is saved from these solar systems will go back to the taxpayers who are already going to be hit by this rate increase,” Colovich said. “So by allowing more of the public savings to be transferred to those local governments…it will help them better absorb future rate increases.”
Colovich said that Rocky Mountain Power has much more robust energy efficiency programs for local governments in Utah than it does in Wyoming, referring to Utah street lights switching to LED to save on monthly bills “versus in Wyoming, their rate structure does not promote energy efficiency so there are no savings whatsoever for that type of behavior change,” she said. “Utah also has a Wattsmart program for their communities where Rocky Mountain Power activity helps communities road map their energy use. If these rate increases do go into effect and even if they don’t go into effect, help our Wyoming communities understand their energy use and plan for the future, just like they’re doing in Utah communities.”
“We’ve lost enough.”
Kristen McClelland works for a small oil field service; her family has been in the oil and gas industry for 20 years. She said that this rate increase, along with the fuel increases, would put them out of business.
“As a private citizen and my family making our living off the oil and gas industry…when the commodity prices go up and we make poor decisions with our own personal income, there is no safety net for the citizens, for the working man…” McClelland said. “A bad business decision on the part of Rocky Mountain Power should not fall on the citizens of Wyoming to take on. When the oil prices crash and everybody around here loses their job, there’s no safety net for those families, for those children…there’s nobody coming to save the day for us. The Wyoming citizens are tired of saving the day for everybody else who makes bad business decisions.”
McClelland also said that Wyoming citizens should be the first to benefit from coal and gas, as well as the transmission lines being built, “not the states that want wind energy,” she said. “There are people in this room where that rate increase will break their family. They will lose their homes, they will lose their vehicles. We’ve lost enough. We’ve already lost a lot of our coal and our drilling. Look at our rig count. Look at our men who don’t have jobs anymore. We cannot sustain this.”
FCAG is “one hundred percent opposed”
Several more attendees came forward to express their opposition, including Gary Michaud, Administrator representing the Fremont County Association of Governments.
“We are one hundred percent opposed to this increase,” Michaud said. “Our economy has reached a tipping point, and we all know this and we all know where things are going. This increase will burden our local governments and our citizens. Our residents are going to have to choose between food and electricity. It’s going to push our senior citizens out of their homes. It’s going to strangle and destroy our families, our ranchers, our small businesses and our large businesses, and decimate our tax base.”
More public hearings are scheduled in Laramie on September 25 and another in Casper on October 12. For more information, visit: psc.wyo.gov/home/hot-topics
“I invested my money mainly to try to avoid the rising cost of electricity from both power companies, but also to help our country and the power grid deal with the electrical power needs we are told our country has. I guess what galls me the most is the argument that those of us who have invested money in solar are somehow taking advantage of those who cannot afford to do so.” Ron Warpness, business owner, former Riverton Mayor.
“The Rocky Mountain Power increase could cost the state of Wyoming–all 23 counties–well over $1.4 million in lost tax revenue as well as the loss of many, if not most, 350 small Wyoming businesses their neighbors struggle to operate. Rocky Mountain Power owes Wyoming and this commission clear answers to justify a fair and reasonable request in the public interest. Additionally, these rates will actually affect me personally…I’m one of the limited income seniors in the town of Dubois.” Pat Neveaux, Mayor of Dubois.
“We have many widows in our city that cannot afford to have an increase in taxes, increase in utilities, increase in food and other costs, and they are telling me they can hardly stay in their own homes which have been paid for for years. That is all they have, and are afraid that they will have to be moved out of their homes.” Ron Fabrizius, Fremont County Commissioner.
“ All you have to do is look at what’s going on in the world today…a lot of European countries, primarily Germany, that got away from coal is now trying to fire up coal power plants. Every week, China and India are putting a new coal fire power plant online. Why are we shutting down coal in America? … They want to shift the cost of fuel one hundred percent to the consumers. One hundred percent! Why would we want to do that, as consumers? They made the decision to do with the cost of fuel, why do we have to pay for it? They made the decision, they should pay for it.” Eli Bebout, concerned citizen, business owner, former member of the WY Legislature.