(Dan Cepeda, Oil City News)

CASPER, Wyo. — The Rocky Mountain Power rate increase has reached the halls of Washington D.C. this week with Rep. Harriet Hageman sending out an email blasting the company for its reliance on green energy. Rocky Mountain Power rebutted the email with its own update this morning.

Rocky Mountain Power has petitioned for an average 21.1% base rate increase along with a temporary 7.6% adjustment to recover sudden fuel and power purchase costs from 2022, triggered by extreme weather events, according to an email from the company.

That rate increase started to appear in customer bills in July but still needs final approval. It will sunset in July 2024.

Rocky Mountain Power, Wyoming’s largest utility, is also proposing that Wyoming ratepayers shoulder the entirety of unanticipated costs from fossil fuel price spikes and open-market power purchases.

At present, the utility covers 20% of these costs, with the remaining 80% being borne by its 144,000 state customers. Now, Rocky Mountain Power seeks to shift its liability, urging that Wyoming customers absorb the full cost.

The utility attributes the bulk of this hike to surging natural gas and coal prices, stating that these market fluctuations are “beyond the company’s reasonable control.”

If accepted, the combined rate hike would elevate monthly bills for the average household by about $21.31. According to RMP, $15.67 of that is for the 21.1% increase. Using that same math nets another $5.64 for the 7.6% temporary increase. This math suggests that the average bill would come out to $74.26 before the increases and $95.57 if both increases were approved.

Contradicting RMP’s rationale, an email from Rep. Harriet Hageman sent hours prior to the Wyoming Public Service Commission public hearing on Monday, Sept. 25 in Laramie claimed that RMP faces these “extreme price fluctuations” due to an over-reliance on green energy production.

The email states that while RMP pursues green energy and prepares to close substantial coal capacity, they use federal subsidies for renewable energy, burdening consumers on both ends. Hageman also criticized the federal push toward renewable energy, suggesting it lacks reliability, especially during Wyoming winters.

“RMP is only subject to these extreme price fluctuations because it must purchase out-of-market energy to fill its power shortages caused by its over-reliance on green energy production,” Hageman stated in the email.

RMP countered these assertions, stating its testimony and evidence in its regulatory filings demonstrate that the proposed increases are almost entirely due to significant spikes in the costs of natural gas and coal for its thermal power plants.

Emphasizing that its investments in renewable resources, like wind power, have actually mitigated the brunt of fossil fuel costs. They clarified that without these wind investments, rates would have skyrocketed an additional 60% in Wyoming.

“Since 2021 Natural gas fuel prices have risen 89% while coal fuel prices have increased 38% — sharply increasing the cost of fueling our power plants. … Open market power costs have increased 199% — raising the cost of the power we purchase from the market when energy demand exceeds our generation capacity,” RMP stated in the email.

The proposed increase has many in Wyoming pushing back against the hike, with more than 150 people and elected officials attending the last public hearing in Casper on Aug. 24. There has also been significant movement at the State Legislature and Casper City Council to address the issue.

Mayor Leah Juarez of Mills took a firm stance against renewable energy ventures, suggesting that the rate hike is a direct consequence of RMP’s green energy business choices.

“There will be no more renewable farms in Natrona County under my mayorship if this is the price we have to pay,” Juarez said.

The Wyoming Public Service Commission has scheduled one more public hearing in Casper on Oct. 12 at the Thyra Thomson State Office Building, located at 444 W. Collins Drive, Roundhouse Conference Room #3024, from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m.

The final rate hearing by the Public Service Commission is set from Oct. 25 to Nov. 3.

Emails from Rep. Hageman and Rocky Mountain Power can be found below.