PUC slaps PacifiCorp for not researching coal alternatives

The Naughton coal plant in Wyoming was upgraded prematurely by Pacific Power, according to a rate case ruling by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission.

The Naughton coal plant in Wyoming was upgraded prematurely by Pacific Power, according to a rate case ruling by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission. 

A late-December ruling by the Oregon Public Utilities Commission found that PacifiCorp fell short in efforts to find alternatives to coal power and ordered the utility, which operates as Pacific Power, to reduce rates by $17 million in 2013 as a penalty.

In all, Pacific Power had sought to increase its Oregon rates by $41.2 million, or 3.5 percent. The rate case ruling by the PUC reduced the increase to $3.7 million, less than 1 percent.

The decision was a victory for coal opposition groups including Sierra Club and utility customer advocates including the Citizens' Utility Board of Oregon.

Sierra Club argued that PacifiCorp moved forward with improvements to its coal plant in Wyoming before the utility was legally required to do so and shortchanged any research to find alternative energy sources.

As part of its rate case ruling issued Dec. 20, the PUC pointed to the example of Portland General Electric's 2010 decision to shut down its Boardman coal plant as one that was missed in PacifiCorp's haste.

"Had Pacific Power planned to delay investments at some of its plants, then the utility would have been clearly aware of the 'phase-out' analysis conducted by PGE for its Boardman plant and prompted to evaluate the economics of a similar phase-out," the ruling reads.

Bob Gravely, spokesman for PacifiCorp, said for the most part the rate case ruling was favorable for PacifiCorp. He said updates to coal plants were made by the company in order to comply with the Clean Air Act.

"This is the first time we’re aware of that a utility has not been allowed to fully recover the cost of installing emissions control equipment at coal facilities for alleged failure to fully investigate alternatives," Gravely said.

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