PacifiCorp proposes less coal, more renewables

Source: Pete Danko, Portland Business Journal, October 3 2019

PacifiCorp would close 16 of its 24 coal units, add nearly 7,000 MW of new renewable energy and build 400 miles of transmission line over the next decade to accelerate decarbonizing its system, according to its draft 2019 integrated resource plan.

PacifiCorp wants to accelerate retirements in its vast coal fleet and pour billions into new renewable energy, battery storage and transmission infrastructure, the company said Thursday in revealing a draft resource portfolio.

The possible rate impact of the plan wasn’t detailed. But PacifiCorp’s top resource planner, Rick Link, said the company was “certain this is the least-cost plan,” estimating that it would likely save $300 million to $500 million over 20 years compared to the track the company is currently on.

The move comes after the Sierra Club pushed PacifiCorp to analyze the economics of its 24 coal units, which provided about 58 percent of the six-state utility’s energy in 2018. A study commissioned by the club had revealed many of the plants were more expensive to operate than renewable sources, which have been falling in cost and are supported by federal incentives.

But PacifiCorp, which operates in Oregon as Pacific Power, is also facing pressure from the coal states in its territory — Wyoming in particular — to keep plants running.

With those politics as a backdrop, the company spent the past year modeling scenarios in search of a “preferred portfolio,” insisting that the hard numbers and ensuring system reliability would guide it.

The draft portfolio it showed on Thursday, ahead of formal presentation of an integrated resource plan in two weeks, targets seven coal units for accelerated retirement, two in Montana, one in Colorado and four in Wyoming. The earliest retirement would come in 2023, and others would go offline in 2025, 2026, 2027 and 2028. All but one of the plants are now set to run well into the 2030s.

The utility said Oct. 3 that the 16 coal closures would take place by 2030, and another four by 2038. The retirements would cut nearly 2,800 MW from the company’s 6,000 MW coal portfolio by 2030, and nearly 4,500 MW by 2038.

The draft IRP calls for divesting PacifiCorp’s ownership in Jim Bridger Unit 1 in 2023, rather than 2037, with Bridger Unit 2 leaving the portfolio in 2028. The utility would retire its shares of Colstrip units 3 and 4 in 2027. Craig Unit 2 would also be out of the portfolio in 2026, after Naughton units 1 and 2 retire in 2025.

Under a recently passed Wyoming state law, PacifiCorp must try to sell the Wyoming-based coal units before closing them.

Chad Teply, senior VP for business policy and development at PacifiCorp, said the utility will be working with employees and communities impacted by the closures.

“We will facilitate advancing economic development, and will be sitting down with state and local leadership to identify ways that we can move this plan forward,” Teply said.

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