Rocky Mountain Power, the state’s primary energy provider, recently announced plans to close two coal power plants in Utah by 2032.
PacifiCorp, Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company, released its 365-page 2023 Integrated Resource Plan on March 31 detailing its plans for the future. Some of the company’s many initiatives to move towards clean and renewable energy include the closure of all coal power plants by 2039 and an increase of nearly four times the company’s current wind and solar resources to a total of 20,000 megawatts by 2032.
PacifiCorp’s last two coal power plants in Utah, Hunter and Huntington, are both located in the state’s eastern Emery County. As of 2021, Utah had five active coal power plants, two of those belonging to PacifiCorps. Hunter, which has been active since 1978, is scheduled to retire its first unit in 2031, with its other two units following suit in 2032. Huntington is scheduled to close both of its units in 2032 and has been active since 1974.
Coal-fired energy has peaked in recent years, with global coal-fired energy generation reaching an all-time high in 2021. As of 2021, coal was the second largest energy source for U.S. electricity generation, accounting for roughly 22% of the country’s energy. As more research has been conducted on how coal-fired power affects air and water pollution, organizations have begun to call for the decentralization of coal-fired power in favor of more renewable energy. Both Hunter and Huntington plants have received criticism in the past from organizations such as the National Parks Conservation Association and the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah for their CO2 output and noncompliance with various proposed environmental regulations.
Following PacifiCorps’s March announcement of the decommissioning of Hunter and Huntington, HEAL Utah is cautious of Rocky Mountain Power’s ability to follow through on the lofty goals outlined in the 2023 IRP.
“Rocky Mountain Power has a history of failing to meet federal regulations to reduce emissions. We encourage RMP to put forward tangible steps to ensure this proposal won’t become another missed target and take immediate action to meet current emission-reducing regulations,” said HEAL Utah Executive Director Lexi Tuddenham.
If the goals outlined in the PacifiCorps’ 2023 IRP are met and Hunter and Huntington plants are closed, Tuddenham believes we could finally eliminate toxic emissions from two of the most polluting plants in the country.
“In addition, this decision will give communities the certainty they need to plan for their future. Rocky Mountain Power must support these communities through this transition in diverse ways, including investment in new types of sustainable economic development,” Tuddenham said.
HEAL Utah is still cautiously optimistic as proposed nuclear power plants tend to overrun their estimated costs, fall behind schedule and require around-the-clock attention.
Although PacifiCorps is closing its coal power plants, it is planning on remaining in both the Castle Dale and Huntington City communities as a nuclear power plant facility.
“The advanced nuclear resources that appear in the plan represent a promising future for our employees and communities in rural Utah and Wyoming,” Rick Link, senior vice president of resource planning, procurement and optimization at PacifiCorp, said in a PacifiCorps press release. “As we transition to a net-zero energy future, it is important to leverage the experience, skills and dedication of the communities that have supplied our energy needs for the past century.”
Rocky Mountain Power representative David Eskelsen said the advanced nuclear resources that appear in the plan represent a promising future for PacifiCorps and Rocky Mountain Power employees in rural Utah and Wyoming.
“The company has considered what this transition away from fossil-fueled electricity will mean for plant employees and the communities where these plants are located. To lessen the impact of these changes, the 2023 plan anticipates that advanced nuclear power plants could be built at those plant locations by the end of 2032, using the same Natrium technology as the project now planned for Kemmerer, Wyoming in 2030,” Eskelsen said.
Castle Dale City, home of the Hunter Power Plant, will be one of the communities most impacted by the plant’s decommissioning. However, Castle Dale Mayor Danny Van Wagoner said his community is excited about what the future holds.
“If we were to lose our energy source and our livelihoods for this county, we’d be in a lot of trouble, but it looks like the PacifiCorps drawing board shows two nuclear plants coming in, replacing these decommissioned coal plants. That gives us at least a 60-70 year guarantee of jobs and tax, so it’s a plus for our city and county,” Van Wagoner said.
Van Wagoner estimates roughly 30-40% of the Castle Dale community works for Rocky Mountain Power, with additional community members working as coal miners. RMP has assured residents who will be impacted by the closure of the coal power plant that they will continue to have work with RMP.
“Rocky Mountain Power came in and had group meetings with their employees and let the workers know their 10- and 20-year plan. The jobs, which are good, well-paying jobs, will continue and actually increase with the two nuclear plants replacing the coal plants. It takes more people. The build alone would bring in probably 2,000 more workers as well,” Van Wagoner said.
The two Utah RMP plants are set to be decommissioned by 2032.