Although the handwriting has been on the wall for several years now (see Daily GPI, Aug. 30, 2011; July 1, 2011), the momentum has picked up in Utah for accelerating the switch from coal- to natural gas-fired electric generation.

Officials at the huge public-sector Intermountain Power Project (IPP) near Delta, UT, told local news media recently that they intend to transform their nearly 2,000 MW coal units to run on gas by 2025-2027, when major contracts with the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP) and other public-sector utilities in Southern California expire. LADWP is hoping to end its use of coal-fired power by 2025 (see Daily GPI, April 19, 2013).

Twenty-three small municipal utilities and six rural cooperatives in Utah depend on IPP for most, if not all, of their power supplies, and they have expressed concern with the plans beyond 2027. IPP, through the Intermountain Power Agency (IPA), is preparing potential contracts with all of the California and Utah customers, contemplating gas-fired generation with a total capacity of about 1,300-1,400 MW.

Separately, the state’s major private-sector utility, PacifiCorp’s Rocky Mountain Power, has said that it plans to shut down its major coal-fired facility, the 172 MW Carbon Power Plant, in April 2015, following the opening of a 645 MW gas-fired, combined-cycle unit at the existing 534 MW Lakeside gas-fired generation site.

“After that, we estimate no new fossil fuel generation will be needed for the next 10 years,” a Rocky Mountain spokesperson told NGI.

Like several hundred other coal-fired plants nationally, the Utah facilities are facing the prospect of tougher federal air emissions standards that older coal plants cannot economically meet.

Typical of what local utilities are doing, LADWP, the nation’s largest municipal utility, earlier this year finalized plans — prompted by its oversight board and the city’s political leaders — to transition out of coal-fired power from IPP by 2025.

Behind this action is a new agreement that permits the Los Angeles muni to begin transitioning away from coal by 2020, when more definitive plans are in place for building a smaller gas-fired generation plant at the IPP site in Utah.

This does not mean that Utah will exit the coal-fired generation business entirely, since Rocky Mountain Power still has more than 2,000 MW of newer and cleaner coal-fired generation facilities — Hunter (1,320 MW) and Huntington (895 MW) in the center of the state’s major coal producing areas.

Rocky Mountain Power reportedly has invested more than $1.5 billion in upgraded emissions controls in the two plants since 2005.