Utah regulators asked to reconsider power plant pollution solution
Energy • Environmental group seeks to reopen PacifiCorp's Bridger case.
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An environmental group has asked Utah utility regulators to reconsider the pollution-related upgrades already approved for PacifiCorp's Bridger power plant in Wyoming.

"Basically, we're saying there is a less expensive, environmentally superior alternative that PacifiCorp has not considered," said Steven Michel, a New Mexico-based attorney for Western Resource Advocates.

The question is before Utah's Public Service Commission, since much of the electricity from the 2,120-megawatt, four-unit power plant comes to Utah.

In May, the commission pre-approved the use of selective catalytic reduction (SCR) retrofits for two of the coal-fired units under a new Utah law. The new pollution controls are needed to help PacifiCorp, parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, meet federal standards for regional haze, and the commission's approval means PacifiCorp can now charge the cost of the $300 million improvements.

Commission Administrator Gary Widerburg said the request to reconsider or rehear its May 10 decision is before the three commissioners.

"I do know they will have a decision on this shortly," he said.

The commission's job is to balance the monopoly utility's need to make a profit with the public's right to have safe, reliable service at reasonable rates — for electricity, natural gas, telecommunications, and water and sewer in some cases.

That's the reasoning behind the environmental group's request. Michel said PacifiCorp could save ratepayers more and cut overall pollution more by adopting a two-part strategy at Bridger: convert half of the production to natural gas units and use less expensive selective non-catalytic reduction (SCNR) clean-air technology on the other half.

This combination approach to dealing with regional haze emissions could make PacifiCorp's — and ultimately ratepayers' costs — 7 to 10 times lower, Michel estimates.

"This is a ratepayer issue in Utah," he said.

But the combination idea was not explored in the Utah case, since the electric company was focused on meeting U.S. Environmental Protection Agency standards. Since, then, EPA signed off on combination plant updates in New Mexico and Arizona, Michel said.

"At the end of the day," he concluded, "this is a cheaper alternative with a better environmental outcome."

Rocky Mountain Power spokesman Dave Eskelsen said the company would tell the PSC the alternatives were "fully explored" and no rehearing is needed.

"Both [Utah's and Wyoming's] commissions concur the company's compliance actions are appropriate," he said.

fahys@sltrib.com

Twitter: @judyfutah