Rocky Mountain Power’s parent company wants to reduce carbon by 98% by 2050, but environmentalists say it’s not enough

PacifiCorp plans to retire most of its coal production by 2040.

(Jeff Gearino | Casper Star-Tribune via AP) Steam rises from the huge boiler units at the Jim Bridger Power Plant east of Rock Springs, Wyo., in 2006. PacifiCorp will start the process of ending coal-fueled operations at the Jim Bridger units, but will seek permitting for a natural-gas conversion of the units by 2024.

The Berkshire-Hathaway-owned energy company PacifiCorp announced its 2021 integrated resource plan on Wednesday but environmental groups say the plan fails to meet the recommendation of global scientists to transition away from fossil fuels.

PacifiCorp, the parent company of Rocky Mountain Power, which provides energy to a majority of Utah, states the plan offers a “vision for the west between now and 2040,” while charting a “path to achieve reduced greenhouse gas emissions by investing in more renewable resources.”

But several environmental groups say the plan doesn’t go nearly far enough. Western Resource Advocates, the Sierra Club, the Healthy Environment Alliance of Utah and the NW Energy Coalition said the plan’s failure is that it “intends to keep coal and gas generation in its resource mix well into the 2040s.”

Although coal resources have been an “important resource” in PacifiCorp’s portfolio for many years, the company says it has changed how it operates those resources in order to “reduce fuel consumption and associated costs and emissions, and instead buy increasingly low-cost, zero-emissions renewable energy from market participants across the West.”

Dividing its coal use into 22 units, the plan states that the “preferred portfolio includes retirement of 14 of the units by 2030 and 19 of the units by the end of the planning period in 2040.”

PacifiCorp will reduce coal power by retiring coal units and making conversions to natural gas. Electricity generation is measured in megawatts (MW), an amount of electricity that could power about 650 homes.

These retirements and conversions in the PacifiCorp portfolio will “reduce coal-fueled generation capacity by 1,300 MW by the end of 2025, over 2,200 MW by 2030, and over 4,000 MW by 2040.” The coal unit retirements will be accompanied by 1,554 MW of natural gas retirements through 2040 as well.

PacifiCorp will also start the process of ending coal-fueled operations at the Jim Bridger units, but will seek permitting for a natural-gas conversion of the units by 2024, to “improve system reliability for customers, including Utah” wrote David Eskelsen, a spokesman for Rocky Mountain Power, in an email.

“This plan represents the least-cost, least-risk options for our customers in the six states we serve,” Eskelsen wrote.

That’s not enough according to environmental groups. “Scientists say that in order to avoid catastrophic climate change, we must curtail greenhouse gas emissions to net-zero economywide and globally by 2050,” the groups said in a news release.

Decarbonizing the electric sector within the next 15 years is key to avoiding “catastrophic climate change,” the groups state.

“Across Utah and the West, the intensifying effects of climate change are evident, from record-breaking heat to prolonged drought, erratic weather patterns, intense wildfires, and toxic air pollution,” said Sophie Hayes, Western Resource Advocates’ senior staff attorney in Salt Lake City.

“PacifiCorp says it will reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 74% by 2030 and 98% by 2050, compared with 2005 levels. In order to avoid climate crisis, we must reduce emissions from the power sector at least 80% by 2030 and be net-zero by 2035, to support decarbonizing the rest of the economy.”

However, Eskelsen says the plan is in line with last year’s Utah Climate and Air Quality Roadmap, which was published by climate experts and called for a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by the year 2030.

“Rocky Mountain Power is proud that its Integrated Resource Plan will far exceed that goal with a 74% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 and a 98% reduction by 2050,” Eskelsen wrote. “Much of that reduction will come from new clean energy built throughout the West, including a significant amount of new solar energy in rural Utah.”

Meisei Gonzalez, a representative from the Healthy Environment Alliance Of Utah (HEAL Utah), said in the release that the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, a group of global scientists convened by the United Nations, shows that “our window of opportunity is here.”

The IPCC’s report last month stated that some of the devastating impacts of climate change cannot be averted due to our decades of fossil fuel use, but the report also concluded there is still time to take steps to avoid the worst impacts of the climate crisis.

“We have evidence showing that there will be devastating impacts in our future that we no longer can fix, but we know that if we hold big polluters accountable and push for these set goals, we will avoid the worst,” Gonzalez said. “These reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are not negotiable.”