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RMP: $116M Electricity Rate Hike For Wyoming Due To Inflation, Coal Disruptions

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RMP: $116M Electricity Rate Hike For Wyoming Due To Inflation, Coal Disruptions


LARAMIE — Dick Garlish, who was named president of Rocky Mountain Power (RMP) nearly two weeks ago, said on the sidelines of a Laramie event Tuesday that his utility’s latest request for rate hikes in Wyoming are being driven by inflation, disruptions in its market caused by a Utah coal mine fire and higher coal transportation costs.

RMP wants a Wyoming regulatory agency to permit the utility to raise electricity rates by a combined $116.3 million, or 16.5%, on all of Wyoming’s 144,511 customers. That decision could come as early as this spring.

That’s in addition to an 8.3% increase that went into effect Jan 1. The company had initially requested more than 21%.

Garlish told Cowboy State Daily at Tuesday’s informational workshop to explain to customers why his utility has requested a double-digit rate hike that inflation is the “biggest factor.”

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Inflation had hit as high as 9% in June 2022, before falling to 3.4% for the year period ending in April 2024, the Labor Department announced Wednesday.

Other RMP workshops are planned in Rawlins for Wednesday, Riverton on Thursday, Rock Springs on Friday and Cody on May 28.

In the brief interview with Cowboy State Daily, Garlish likened the rate hike request submitted to the Wyoming Public Service Commission in April to what can happen with a mortgage.

“Simply, one way to think about it is a mortgage, where there is an escrow account to hold taxes and insurance, and it goes up and down based on the value of the land,” Garlish said.

The same metaphorical example has happened with electricity costs, as they fluctuated based on factors such as supply and demand of coal, and taking on more expensive coal supply contracts for some power plants because of unexpected mine closures in Utah last year.

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It’s All In The Formula

RMP, which is owned by the Berkshire Hathaway-backed PacifiCorp based in Portland, Oregon, has stated that the requested rate increases are calculated as part of their annual true-up of fuel costs.

These true-ups are based on a complicated formula involving what the company pays for fuel to burn in power plants, and what they are permitted by regulators to charge customers. The fuel prices fluctuate on an annual basis, which is why utility bills can rise or fall.

Besides inflation impacting the cost of doing business, Garlish said that the rate hike is attributed to coal and fuel supply chain disruptions.

Historically low coal inventories prompted many utilities, including RMP, to increase natural gas generation and buy more wholesale electricity while restocking depleted coal inventories.

In many coal basins nationally, coal pricing more than doubled in 2022 and remained high into 2023.

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This effect on coal pricing was made worse by the war in Ukraine, when many U.S. mines, including those in Utah and Colorado, rushed to take advantage of high coal prices by exporting coal to Europe.

The depleted coal supplies worsened when the Lila Canyon underground mine near Price, Utah, which is operated by Emery County Coal Resources, a unit of American Consolidated Natural Resources, suffered a fire in September 2022, according to Garlish.

The mine, which has been unable to recover from the fire, laid off the workforce earlier this year.

In 2021, Lila Canyon produced nearly 3.5 million tons. Most of the coal was consumed by the Hunter and Huntington power plants in Utah, Garlish said.

Hank Kobulnick, a former pilot with United Airlines who moved from Chicago to Laramie to be closer to his son and grandchildren, attended a workshop held by Rocky Mountain Power to see if the utility could offer electricity savings for his church, United Presbyterian. “We put in a new furnace and LED lights,” said Kobulnick, who said RMP helped defray some of the costs in making these purchases. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

Power Savings

Hank Kobulnick, a former pilot with United Airlines who moved from Chicago to Laramie to be closer to family, attended the workshop to see if RMP could offer any electricity savings for his church, United Presbyterian.

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“We put in a new furnace and LED lights,” said Kobulnick, who said RMP helped defray some of the costs in making these purchases. “I’m just looking for ways to save on energy costs.

“If rates go up, I understand why, but there are ways to cut down on the bills.”

He’s considering the purchase of motion detectors that turn off lights in the church as another way to save on power bills.

Ronnie Zimmerman, an engineer with RMP’s Wattsmart business program, said churches, small restaurants, schools and hotels are prime targets for his program to save on power bills and avoid rising costs.

“RMP will help with LEDs and subsidies,” said Zimmerman, pointing to customers who receive discounts through bulb purchases at Home Depot and Lowes home improvement stores that RMP helps with.

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“People should care about these programs because everyone is feeling pinched,” he said. “To reduce electricity usage means to keep your bill flat.”

RMP’s latest rate hike comes on the heels of a controversial rate case last year when RMP wanted to boost everyone’s power bills by nearly 30%. Through litigation between the PSC and RMP, and following angry public hearings throughout the state, the rate increase was whittled to 8.3%, giving RMP $53.9 million.

The 8.3% increase last year, which went into effect at the beginning of 2024, came in a general rate case — which happens every few years.

The hike request filed in April is the standard energy cost adjustment that RMP does annually.

In this case, RMP wants to raise monthly power bills across the Cowboy State by 12.3%, or about $86.4 million for residential, commercial and industrial customers. The other 4.2% would be realized through a tax benefit.

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On average, residential customers will see their monthly bills rise 9.3%, or about $12 per month on their utility bill if the whole increase is approved.

Ronnie Zimmerman, an engineer with Rocky Mountain Power’s Wattsmart business program, said churches, small restaurants, schools and hotels are prime targets for his program to save on power bills and avoid rising costs. On Tuesday, Zimmerman said at a workshop held by Rocky Mountain Power, which is seeking a  $116.3 million rate hike for Wyoming customers, that his Wattsmart can help people keep their bills flat.
Ronnie Zimmerman, an engineer with Rocky Mountain Power’s Wattsmart business program, said churches, small restaurants, schools and hotels are prime targets for his program to save on power bills and avoid rising costs. On Tuesday, Zimmerman said at a workshop held by Rocky Mountain Power, which is seeking a $116.3 million rate hike for Wyoming customers, that his Wattsmart can help people keep their bills flat. (Pat Maio, Cowboy State Daily)

Hidden Costs

There are typically many complicated factors involved in determining electricity bills.

The rate hike RMP announced in April is an annual cost adjustment, which is subject to review by the PSC.

The general rate increase is different than the annual energy cost adjustment that RMP wants to recover from all customer classes beginning in July.

There are other cost pressures hitting the bills of RMP’s customers.

For instance, the 12.3% increase doesn’t include a key tax benefit that effectively lowers a customer’s bill.

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That tax benefit for electricity customers contained in the Tax Cut and Jobs Act of 2017 goes away beginning July 1.

Over the past three years, customer bills included the tax benefit totaling nearly $85 million. It’ll have the effect of adding another 4.2%, or $29.9 million, to everyone’s utility bills once the tax benefit goes away.

Between the annual energy cost adjustment and the tax benefit going away, a typical residential customer using 700 kilowatt-hours of electricity per month would see their monthly bill rise $16.

Garlish told Cowboy State Daily that RMP had wanted to spread out the tax benefits for Wyoming customers over a much longer period so that it could minimize the financial disruption caused by the $85 million subsidy over a three-year period.

Before joining PacifiCorp in 2020, Garlish served as senior vice president and general counsel at Peak Reliability, a Washington-based firm that worked on reliability services and markets in the U.S. West.

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Earlier in his career, he held several senior positions at Boise-based Idaho Power Co., including senior counsel, director and general manager.

Garlish also served as senior corporate counsel at Sioux Falls, South Dakota-based NorthWestern Energy Group Inc.

Overall, Garlish oversees an RMP territory of more than 1.2 million customers throughout the Cowboy State, Idaho and Utah.

Pat Maio can be reached at pat@cowboystatedaily.com.



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Wyoming Police investigate fatal shooting over the weekend | Newsradio WOOD 1300 and 106.9 FM | WOOD Radio Local News

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Wyoming Police investigate fatal shooting over the weekend | Newsradio WOOD 1300 and 106.9 FM | WOOD Radio Local News


WYOMING, Mich. — Wyoming Police are investigating a fatal shooting over the weekend.

The Department of Public Safety said 34-year-old Marquise Reid-Moore of Grand Rapids was gunned down around 8:20 Friday night on Woodward Avenue near 34th Street. That’s east of Clyde Park Avenue and south of 32nd Street.

There is no word yet on what prompted the shooting, or any suspect information.

Wyoming Police detectives continue to investigate this incident. Anyone with information regarding this incident is asked to contact Wyoming Police at 616-530-7300 or Silent Observer at 616-774-2345; 1-866-774-2345; or https://www.silentobserver.org.

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Getting Wyoming’s Iconic 1 Million Pound Big Boy Locomotive Ready For Summer Tour

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Getting Wyoming’s Iconic 1 Million Pound Big Boy Locomotive Ready For Summer Tour


There’s a race underway in the Union Pacific Steam Shop, getting the largest locomotive every built — Big Boy 4014 — ready to go on its Summer 2024 Tour, set to begin June 30.

Evidence of that race could be seen during last weekend’s Depot Days in Cheyenne, where Union Pacific’s Heritage Operations Manager Ed Dickens had a crew going over what he called some “minor issues.”

The minor issue is actually kind of a big deal. It’s called Positive Train Control.

PTC systems were required in the Rail Safety Improvement Act of 2008, though the deadline was extended to 2020.

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The technology is meant to safely stop trains and prevent collisions resulting from human operator errors. The legislation was sparked by several high-profile crashes, among them the 2008 Chatsworth Metrolink crash near Los Angeles.

Investigators determined that the train’s engineer had been sending and receiving text messages seconds before his train ran through a red signal, colliding head-on with a freight train. Twenty-five were killed and 135 injured in what authorities said was the worst train accident since 1993.

“PTC is kind of standard on diesels now,” Paul Guercio told Cowboy State Daily.

He was among Union Pacific personnel on site May 18, talking with the people touring the Steam Shop during Depot Days. “It’s a very complex system electronically. You have to feed in the data to the computer system of all of the track data where exactly you are, so there’s GPS to tell the system where it is. There’s a database that tells it whether the track is going uphill, downhill, and how fast the train is going.”

And stopping the heaviest locomotive ever at more than 1 million pounds is no small matter.

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With all that data, the PTC system can calculate how far away the train needs to start stopping, if it’s approaching a red light signal.

“If you’re not slowing down, it will just override that and do it for you,” Guercio said.

Not Standard For Steam Engines

The systems are standard on diesel engines these days, but not on 1940s-era steam engines.

“It’s a much bigger challenge to make the system operable on a steam engine, and that’s what they’re working on now,” Guercio said. “It’s pretty complex, and there’s many different failure modes and all of that kind of stuff it has to anticipate. So that’s what they’re trying to test.”

The system needs to be ready by this week, so that Big Boy can make a test run before its summer tour.

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“We’ll just go out to Borie and back,” Guercio said. “We’ll run back and forth a few times, just to make sure everything’s OK, that everything that’s been worked on is working the way it’s supposed to.”

Borie is a railroad junction that makes what’s called a “Wye.”

“That’s where you have three tracks going like this,” Gurecio said, making a triangular shape with his hands. “So, you can go almost any direction, and it’s a place where you can turn around. You can go out that way toward Laramie and then back down the track to Denver, and then come forward to take the track to Cheyenne, and just come back.”

All About Winning The War

Big Boy is the world’s largest steam locomotive at 133 foot tall and 16 foot 4 inches wide. It was one of 25 that were built for the war effort in 1941.

They were as tall and wide as bridges and tunnels would allow, and they were as long as practical given curves that the trains had to navigate at the time to give them the extra power needed to haul freight west for a looming World War II.

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“It hadn’t started yet, Pearl Harbor hadn’t happened yet,” Guercio said. “But people could kind of see things coming up, and they could see they were going to need to haul a lot of freight out to the West Coast and back in both directions.”

Mountainous terrain between Ogden, Utah, and Evanston, Wyoming, required a really heavy, big train to haul large loads, Guercio said.

“They based the first 20 in Green River,” Guercio said. “And in 1944, they built five more because they just had so much traffic.”

By then, diesels were already replacing steam engines, but Union Pacific couldn’t get diesel engines. Those were all going directly to the war effort.

In the beginning, Big Boy’s name was Wasatch, because it was going to go over the Wasatch Mountains. Someone in the Public Relations department thought that up.

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But a machinist in the factory had a better idea. He wrote “Big Boy” in chalk on the front of the steam engine, and the name stuck.

“There’s really a lot in the name that has made it famous,” Guercio said. “And people always argue about what’s the biggest. There’s all kinds of ways to measure big. By horsepower, by weight, by pulling power, by physical size. This has the biggest physical size.”

It also weighs tons — literally. Fully loaded with water and fuel, it’s 600 tons of sheer power. Without fuel and water — just the metal — it still weighs 440 tons.

A few steam engines have more pulling power or horsepower, Guercio said. But Big Boy’s name gave it an edge in the media.

“These were very reliable machines,” Guercio said. “They ran until 1959, and Big Boy was the third engine in the last run, on the same day. They came from Laramie over here (Cheyenne) and kind of got put into storage.”

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After a few years, Union Pacific started giving away the steam locomotives, and the Big Boy headed to a new home at a museum in California.

The Original Big Boy Race

The present-day race to get Big Boy ready for its summer tour reminded Guercio of the even bigger race to get the locomotive ready for the 150th anniversary of the transcontinental railroad’s completion in 2019.

Guercio was among volunteers who helped with that task, ensuring Big Boy could make its inaugural trek west to Ogden for a celebration that Union Pacific dubbed the “Great Race to Promontory.”

Behind the scenes, it was more of a race than anyone outside of Union Pacific realized.

“Time became a critical thing,” Guercio recalled. “And those last few months were pretty intense, because there was still a lot to do.”

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Union Pacific had reacquired Big Boy in 2014. The plan was to take Big Boy and 844, a smaller steam locomotive that had been retained by the railroad, to Ogden, where they would sit face to face as part of the anniversary for laying the golden spike in Promontory on May 10, 1869.

The tracks to Promontory were torn up long ago, making Ogden the nearest location that Union Pacific could get to with its big steam locomotives.

The 844 ended up taking a lot longer to get ready than anticipated, leaving less time than anticipated for the extensive rebuild that Big Boy required.

“I mean this was completely disassemble every nut and bolt,” Guercio said. “Literally everything was taken apart and cleaned up, right down to bare metal.”

It was important to look at the bare metal, Guercio said, to ensure there were no tiny hairline fractures or other defects.

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“Anything that was worn or damaged in any way was replaced,” Guercio said. “And then it had to be painted and put back together.”

The schedule was grueling, Guercio recalled.

“The normal hours are 7 to 3,” he told Cowboy State Daily. “There were a lot of days we were in here at 5 or 6 p.m. and we’d work until it was like 10, 11, 12 o’clock.”

The union guys had a contract, so there were limits to what they could work. That meant managers working around the clock, as well as volunteers.

“I was a volunteer, so no limits for me,” Guercio said, smiling. “And so, we often just slept in here (the Cheyenne steam shop).”

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Even with all that extra work the team put in, things were uncomfortably close.

“May 1 was the first time we got it to move under its own power after 55 years or whatever of being inactive,” Guercio said. “So we just moved it from where it was sitting right here, backed it out the back and then came back and forth a few times. Just to make sure.”

That was the first time Big Boy had moved all by itself. It’s a moment Guercio will never forget.

“It was really late at night though,” he said. “So, we were like ‘OK, that’s enough for tonight.’”

After a little much-needed rest, Big Boy was then put through all of the paces and passed with flying colors — much to everyone’s relief.

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“That date was not going to change,” Guercio said. “It’s like a 150-year-old fixed in history date. So, if you’re not ready, you’re not ready, you know? It’d be missed. So, getting out on time was absolutely critical, and it went right down to the wire.”

That Big Boy Sound

During that first test drive, Guercio got to hear for the first time what the Big Boy sounds like when it’s going all out.

It’s an unforgettable sound of power.

“When we went under the bridge, (the engineer) started opening up a bit, giving it a little more throttle,” Guercio said. “And when it went under the bridge and by the Depot, because the building would just echo right back at you and the bridge, it was like hearing this chuh-chuh-chuh.”

The breaks between the sound disappeared as the steam locomotive picked up speed.

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“Each train has its own unique sound, and this one just sounds strong,” Guercio said. “I don’t know how else to describe it except powerful. It’s more like a roar than a cute little choo-choo. It just turns into a steady roar.”

“Each time the piston reaches the end of a stroke, it releases the steam and that’s what you hear,” Guercio said. “And then steam goes in and pushes it back the other way. So, it’s just pushing back and forth. And the faster it goes, the quicker it’s happening, until eventually they just merge all together and you just hear this roar.”

A Wednesday test run was a success, and thrilled onlookers who saw the impressive locomotive chugging along the Wyoming rails again.

Renée Jean can be reached at renee@cowboystatedaily.com.



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2024 Wyoming Music Ambassadors at the Underground Music Showcase

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2024 Wyoming Music Ambassadors at the Underground Music Showcase







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 2024 Wyoming Music Ambassadors selected to perform at Underground Music Showcase – UMS in Denver in July 2024.




The Wyoming Arts Council is launching a new partnership with the Underground Music Showcase. The Wyoming Arts Council will bring 5 Music Ambassadors to perform at the festival, which will take place July 26-28th in Denver, Colorado. Each band’s participation includes two opportunities to perform over the course of the festival, as well as access to UMS’s Impact Days, which are two days focused on providing professional development opportunities for the participating artists.

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The five participating Music Ambassadors include: 

Missy Jo (Jackson)

SGRNY (Laramie)

Christian Wallowing Bull (Lander)

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It Gets Worse (Laramie)

Shotgun Shogun (Laramie)

 

As part of the Wyoming Independent Music Initiative (WIMI), this collaboration is aimed at assisting artists in performing and touring beyond state borders, thereby expanding their audiences and outreach.

 

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The Underground Music Showcase is Denver’s largest and most beloved music festival and is set to take over Broadway for its 24th annual event. Featuring three outdoor stages and an additional 13 indoor stages, the festival offers a total of over 200 shows. UMS showcases a diverse range of musical genres across various venues, providing a vibrant and dynamic experience for attendees.





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