PacifiCorp Axing Coal as It Joins CAISO

Oregon-based utility and Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary PacifiCorp filed plans this month to shut down nearly 3 GW of its coal generation by 2033 as it moves toward greater integration with the California energy market.

PacifiCorp’s 2015 Integrated Resource Plan (IRP), which it has filed with regulators in Oregon, Washington, California, Utah, Wyoming and Idaho, contains a detailed description for how it plans to meet the future energy needs of its 1.8 million customers across the Western U.S. That vision is clear in the resources it favors: more energy efficiency, more renewables—and a lot less coal.

On the chopping block are at least 10 coal-fired generating units: the two-unit Carbon plant in Helper, Utah, which shut down on April 15; Unit 4 at the Cholla plant in Arizona, which will close or convert to natural gas by 2024; the four-unit Dave Johnston plant in Glenrock, Wyo., which will retire by 2027; and the three-unit Naughton plant in Kemmerer, Wyo., which will retire by 2029. (Naughton Unit 3 will convert to natural gas by 2018, then later retire.)

Together, the 10 units represent 1,712 MW of net generation. The company said it would be more cost-effective to close the plants rather than install emissions controls that would be needed to meet state and federal air pollution regulations, particularly the Regional Haze rule.

Those plants, though, are only the start. In the IRP, PacifiCorp also committed to cut nearly 1,100 MW of additional but as-yet-unspecified coal generation, for a total reduction of 2,800 MW by 2033, nearly half of the company’s total coal-fired capacity.

In its place, PacifiCorp said it will focus on energy efficiency and purchasing more wind and solar generation. In its statement announcing the IRP, it said it saved 553 GWh of electricity in 2014 alone through efficiency measures. These ongoing savings—it anticipates 2,678 MW of energy efficiency gains through 2033—mean it does not see the need for a new thermal plant until 2028, it said.

The move will ease PacifiCorp’s proposed integration with the California Independent System Operator (CAISO). The two entities announced in April that they would formally study the possibility of PacifiCorp joining CAISO as a participating transmission owner.

“PacifiCorp is also taking a leadership role in the creation of a more responsive and efficient way of operating the west’s transmission system,” said PacifiCorp CEO Stefan Bird in a statement. “In partnership with the California Independent System Operator, we are leading the way to a lower-cost, lower-emissions future by using advanced technology to change the way that we generate, manage and dispatch power on the grid.”

California has become an increasingly unfriendly market for fossil generation. The state is in the process of raising its renewable energy target to 50% by 2030, and its cap-and-trade scheme would likely make PacifiCorp’s coal generation uncompetitive in CAISO.

PacifiCorp also said that the changes would meet its share of state emission reduction targets under the proposed Clean Power Plan.

—Thomas W. Overton JD is a POWER associate editor (@thomas_overton, @POWERmagazine).