Wyoming residents are up in arms about a proposed 29 percent increase in their electricity bills.
People in the state are aware that the share of coal-fired generation has been reduced and replaced with natural gas and mandated wind generation that has caused rates to increase.
Wind power more than doubled in the last 3 years, reaching 22 percent of electricity generation last year.
Wyoming is by far the largest coal producing state, accounting for 41 percent of the nation’s coal.
Wyoming is rich in coal, oil, natural gas, and wind resources. While wind power has been promised to be cheap as it is has no fuel costs, the state’s utility has requested a 29 percent increase in electric rates as wind power more than doubled its share in the state over the past 3 years. Wyoming used to get 97 percent of its power from coal and natural gas, but their share has been reduced to 70 percent because of mandates that utilities purchase power from wind turbines. Because wind power is inefficient and costly — even in a high-wind state like Wyoming — costs are rising dramatically. Wyoming traditionally had the lowest energy costs of any state, in part because its coal production is unmatched in the United States.
Rocky Mountain Power says it needs to raise utility bills an average of about 21 percent to help pay for higher cost coal and natural gas, as well as to offset the impact of drought conditions on hydroelectric generation. It is also seeking a temporary 7.6 percent increase through mid-2024 to pay for a sudden surge in fuel prices last year. The proposed increases would cost an average of $19.08 per month for each residential customer. While the percentage increase is higher than those being considered in other states, it would still leave Wyoming residents with lower-than-average costs for the nation, according to the utility. Rocky Mountain Power had not raised rates in Wyoming since a 1.1 percent increase in 2020. It called the new proposal reasonable in light of a $500 million increase in its net power costs since then.
As many Rocky Mountain Power customers are on fixed income, are older, retired or have small families, the price increase would be financially untenable for them. Wyoming’s AARP, which has gathered over 5,000 signatures against the proposal, said the impacts would be devastating to the state’s older residents as they will not only be hit by higher electric bills, but they will see an increase in the cost of everything they buy as Wyoming businesses will pass increased power costs on to Wyoming consumers.
The company pointed out that utilities in other Western states including Idaho and Arizona are also seeking rate increases, ranging from 8.6 percent to about 23 percent. According to Rocky Mountain Power, Wyoming’s typical residential utility bill would be $104, compared with a national average of $172.
The Wyoming Public Service Commission is expected to make a decision on the 21 percent rate increase in November. The 7.6 percent temporary increase will be considered in December. Typically, regulators do not grant all of a utility’s rate-increase request.
Wyoming Coal Dropped as Wind Took Over
Coal plants accounted for about 71 percent of the electricity produced in Wyoming in 2022, down from a peak of 97 percent in 2003, but still second highest in the nation behind West Virginia. Wyoming’s wind power’s share more than doubled from 2019 to 2022, reaching 22 percent.
Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon wants to keep using coal, where Wyoming leads the nation in its production. Wyoming produces around half the coal burned by U.S. power plants. As coal use nationally has fallen because of competition from natural gas and mandates for wind and solar power, revenue from coal in Wyoming plummeted. Coal severance taxes, one source of state revenue, fell by more than 25 percent from 2009 to 2019 reaching $194 million at the end of that decade.
Mr. Gordon has urged the state legislature to adopt measures to support coal. He wants to market it more effectively and develop technology to cut carbon emissions from coal. In one of his State of the State addresses, he said he would defend the state’s coal industry. Researchers at the University of Wyoming have 14 patents to use coal to make products from asphalt to electrodes with a carbon-neutral process and they are working on technology to combust coal and capture carbon dioxide emissions at power plants without flames.
U.S. Coal Consumption at Utilities
Many states, however, are compelling the use of renewables and the shift away from coal. This year, U.S. utilities are expected to consume 373 million tons of coal, about a third of the record 1.045 billion tons consumed in 2007. Coal exports are expected to fall to 96 million tons, down from 116 million tons in 2018.
U.S. Electricity Prices Increased under Biden
Between 2020 and July of 2023, U.S. residential electricity prices have increased by 21 percent. According to the Energy Information Administration, the average monthly electricity bill for residential customers in the United States increased 13 percent from 2021 to 2022, rising from $121 a month to $137 a month– the largest annual increase in average residential electricity spending since the data were first calculated in 1984 by the agency. However, after adjusting for Biden’s inflation—which reached 8 percent in 2022, a 40-year high—residential electricity bills increased just 5 percent. The increase was due to increased consumption of electricity for both heating and cooling, higher fuel costs due to Biden’s anti-fossil fuel policies, and investment in transmission lines that are required for renewable power plants—all part of Biden’s energy transition in his climate agenda.
For years, people in Wyoming have been accustomed to paying some of the lowest electricity prices in the United States, despite harsh winters and a rugged landscape. A 29 percent increase, however, proposed by the state’s largest utility has residents and local leaders fuming. Residents and officials lay the blame for the rate increase on wind projects sprouting up around the sparsely populated state that also need transmission lines to get the wind powered electricity to demand centers. Across the United States, electricity prices are on the rise, mostly due to Biden’s energy transition and climate agenda. In fact, the original architect of many of Biden’s policies, President Barack Obama, promised as much back in 2008 when he stated that his plans would make “electricity prices skyrocket.”