Retrofit Chart

The capex and O&M costs for retrofitting 90% CO2 capture to ­individual units at PacifiCorp’s four power plants.

A U.S. DOE study touting the potential benefits of retrofitting PacifiCorp's four coal-fired power plants in Wyoming with carbon capture, utilization and storage technologies is being panned by Wyoming environmentalists, landowners and the utility.

Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon released the study at a press conference Sept. 3, just a week before the Wyoming PSC was to begin deliberating on PacifiCorp's 2019 integrated resource plan (CU No. 1962 [15]). The preferred portfolio in the IRP calls for PacifiCorp to invest nearly $4 billion in new renewables and transmission, while retiring nearly two-thirds of its Wyoming coal fleet.

Wyoming Carbon Capture, Utilization, and Storage (CCUS) Study was prepared by Leonardo Technologies for DOE's Office of Fossil Energy.

It concluded deploying CCUS technology would lower state CO2 emissions by 37 percent, slash monthly electricity bills by 10 percent, and create 3 to 5 times more jobs than compared to PacifiCorp's 2019 IRP.

Jill Morrison, executive director of Powder River Basin Resource Council, an environmental and landowner advocacy group based in Sheridan, Wyo., told Clearing Up that the authors "cherry picked" information so egregiously the study is "borderline fraudulent."

The study compared potential opportunities for retrofitting the existing power plants with CCUS technologies with the preferred portfolio in PacifiCorp's 2019 IRP, which calls for retiring 1,457 MW of coal by the end of 2025 and 2,874 MW by the end of 2030 (CU No. 1922 [10]).

PacifiCorp didn't model CCUS technology in its 2019 IRP because "it is not considered a viable option before 2025," according to the IRP.

The DOE study assumed 90 percent of the emissions would be captured and either sold for use in enhanced oil-recovery operations in Wyoming, or permanently sequestered in underground saline aquifers in the state.

Wyoming exports about three-fifths of the electricity it generates, primarily to Washington, Oregon and California, which have enacted decarbonization standards that exclude, or will soon exclude, Wyoming coal-fired power from use by state utilities.

The study says deploying CCUS technology would allow Wyoming's coal plants to meet those standards, and the cost of retrofitting the plants could be "significantly ameliorated by environmental compliance considerations such as participation in a carbon-trade market such as under the California cap and trade market."

The DOE study was released just as the Wyoming PSC is concluding its investigation into PacifiCorp's 2019 IRP (CU No. 1962 [15]).

The commission on Sept. 8 delayed that investigation after Glenrock Energy—an oil and gas company—requested the study be introduced as evidence in the case. The PSC said it needed more time to consider Glenrock's request, and delayed a public hearing until early October.

"Good cause exists for admission of the study as a late-filed exhibit because, among other reasons, the Study provides specific, detailed options" for the utility, it said, and added the PSC "will likely avert and avoid the deleterious effects that will be realized by Wyoming if the Preferred Portfolio is followed," Glenrock attorneys said in their motion to introduce the study.

PacifiCorp and PRBRC immediately objected to Glenrock's request.

Shannon Anderson, staff attorney for the PRBRC, told Clearing Up the report was based on a series of assumptions and described it as the "Golden Goose" study.

"If oil prices stay high, if construction prices go down, if technology prices go down, if capacity factors at coal plants stay high, if coal plants can run forever, if carbon capture technology actually works . . . If, if, if and if," she said. "They set out to prove something, and here it is."

In a filing with the PSC, PRBRC objected to the study being introduced in the case because parties would have no time to review and question the study.

"Glenrock Energy was aware of this study at least 10 days ago as evidenced by a reference to it in the company's post-hearing brief and the company would have been able to meet the deadline for motions set forth in the Commission's rules had it filed its motion at that time," PRBRC wrote, "Instead, Glenrock Energy chose to wait until the last minute to file its motion, thwarting review and response by the rest of the Parties."

Spencer Hall, spokesman for PacifiCorp's unit Rocky Mountain Power, described the study as deeply flawed to the point of being nearly useless.

"The economic results in this study just seem disingenuous and not really fair to the people of Wyoming who are watching this," Hall said.

On their initial review of the study, PacifiCorp attorneys found 20 inaccuracies that Hall said "were enough to disqualify it right out of the gate."

Hall said the study didn't include issues like fuel costs or savings from market sales; assumes construction on all nine coal units would take place simultaneously; and gives implausible employment spikes associated with retrofitting the plants.

The study also assumes oil prices will remain at $60 a barrel; today oil is trading at about $40 a barrel. The plants are also expected to run until 2055.

"Even when we tried to recreate the numbers, we can't tell if they used our actual preferred portfolio," Hall said. "We can't tell what numbers they are using."

Hall added the utility is working on its 2021 IRP, for which CCUS technology will be modeled.

"If they want to include this research then let's do it with the proper rigor and do it for the 2021 IRP, rather than scrap all the work that's been done," he said. "Let's do it in the full light of day and do a complete review, let's follow the process."

In its motion before the Wyoming PSC, attorneys for Rocky Mountain Power said "the high capital costs for carbon capture continue to result in the technology not being deemed a viable least-cost, least-risk solution for the company to meets its customers' resource needs."

RMP attorneys argued that it "makes no sense to admit this potentially flawed study, at the very last minute, in a manner that gives no other parties any opportunity to challenge those flawed conclusions. It should not be allowed into the record, and it should be completely disregarded by the Commission as it deliberates, issues its decision and concludes this docket."

Editor - Clearing Up

Steve began covering energy policy and resource development in the Pacific Northwest in 1999. He’s been editor of Clearing Up since 2003, and has been a fellow at the Institute for Journalism and Natural Resource and University of Texas.