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Black Hills Energy and nearly all other utilities in Colorado have agreed to achieve 80% carbon reduction by 2030

by Allen Best

To announce his candidacy for governor of Colorado, Jared Polis in 2017 traveled to Solar Roast Coffee, a shop in downtown Pueblo that claims to offer the world’s only commercial solar-powered coffee roaster.

That jibed well with the centerpiece of Polis’s campaign, the goal of achieving 90% renewable energy in Colorado by 2040. It also helped that Pueblo had by then bucked its history as an industrial town built on the foundation of coal to proclaim a goal of 100% carbon-free energy, the first in Colorado.

Polis on Wednesday reported a major milestone. Electrical utilities that deliver 98% of electricity in Colorado have now committed to deep reductions in carbon by 2030. The utilities have agreed to clean energy plans that will get them to 80% reduction compared to 2005 levels.

In his latest video-shared press conference with a utility, Polis celebrated the ambitions of Black Hills Energy to file a plan in March 2022 with the steps to get it to the state’s 80% goal.

This is from Big Pivots, an e-magazine tracking the energy transition in Colorado and beyond. Subscribe at bigpivots.com

In the meantime, Black Hills is now moving along toward the start of construction later this year of a 200-megawatt solar project in western Pueblo County. Completion of that solar project is expected by the end of 2023. Black Hills expects to achieve 70% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions by 2024.

Black Hills delivers both electricity and natural gas to nearly 290,000 customers in Colorado communities. The utility delivers electricity to Pueblo, Cañon City, and a mine at Victor. The utility was responsible for 3.5% of electrical sales in Colorado in 2018, according to the Colorado Energy Office. Xcel Energy was responsible for 52.5%.

Even before Polis took office in early 2019, Colorado utilities had announced several coal-plant closures. In the last year, those announcements have been a torrent. Tri-State Generation and Transmission in January 2020 said it would close Craig Station by 2030.  Colorado Springs Utilities in June said it would also close its last plant by 2030. Just this week Xcel announced plans to retire its Hayden units in 2027 and 2028.

Platte River Power Authority in 2018 had announced it was getting out of coal by 2030 and posited a conditional goal of 100% renewable generation. Holy Cross Energy specified the same 100% goal in December, but without conditions.

“The reality is that the renewable energy future is here today,” said Polis in crediting the plans by Black Hills.

“This race to the top is good,” he added. “It’s good for our state, economy. it’s good for our air, it’s good for climate, it’s good for workers, it’s good for ratepayers. It positions Colorado as a national leader in a swift transition to a clean energy economy.”

Polis emphasized the job creation, interjecting several times to point out the 250 jobs to be created in construction of the solar projects.

Then there’s what Polis called the moral imperative posed by climate change. Colorado in 2020 had the three largest wildfires in state history and an extreme drought nearly statewide in scale.”

Vance Crocker, manager of Black Hills operations in Colorado, pointed out that Black Hills closed its lone coal plant in Colorado in 2012. It replaced generation with natural gas. It has added 150 megawatts of wind generation. Next year, it will have a portfolio that delivers 51% renewable generation.

The solar project that is the centerpiece of what Black Hills calls its “Renewable Advantage” plan will save its customers $66 million across a 15-year period, the utility says. The solar plan was filed with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission in June

  1. The broader plan will be filed in March 2021.

In adding solar and other renewables, Crocker said, Black Hills will be using its natural gas plants less and less but will continue to use them to ensure reliability. He also said that Black Hills has plans for more renewable natural gas, such as can be extracted from sewage treatment plants and dairies. He said Black Hills has several options in Colorado, although he did not specify them. He said the gas could be used both for electrical generation and sold directly to consumers for home heating and other uses.

In May, a proposal to municipalize electrical operations in Pueblo was defeated handily after a campaign that produced a flurry of expensive campaign literature and advertisements against the proposal.

Tom Corlett was among those calling for municipalization. Viewing the plans of Black Hills, Corlett credits the utility with taking a good step forward with its decarbonization plans. But he wants Pueblo and Pueblo County, which both adopted decarbonization goals, to create mechanisms that deliver accountability. Pueblo County’s resolution calls for 100% renewable generation by 2035.

As an investor-owned utility, Black Hills will try to ensure 9% or more returns for its shareholders.

Crocker, the chief executive, pointed out that Black Hills is in an area rich with renewable potential, both wind and solar. Its existing projects barely scratch the surface of what is possible given the breezy, sunshiny weather, he said. That wind is being harnessed with turbines manufactured in Pueblo at the Vestas factory. Pueblo, he added is becoming the renewable energy capital of Colorado.

See also: Blue and green in Pueblo

See also: Making steel with solar energy

Allen Best
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