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Black Hills ramping up plans for solar, electric vehicle programs

Tracy Harmon
The Pueblo Chieftain
Vance Crocker of Black Hills Energy detailed a solar project in Pueblo County that will save customers $66 million once it is implemented in 2023.

Black Hills Energy is gearing up to launch its western Pueblo County solar project that will generate construction jobs and result in savings for customers when it goes online in 2023.

Gov. Jared Polis and Vance Crocker, Black Hills Energy vice president of Colorado utilities operations, teamed up Thursday to talk about clean energy during a virtual press conference. Polis lauded efforts that will help solve climate change, pointing out Colorado had its three largest fires in state history all in one year.

Polis said renewable energy is, “Creating jobs in Southern Colorado, reducing costs for customers, cleaner air, improving our climate and our economy. Really all of these factors are culminating with almost every utility in Colorado,” prepared to meet the goal of 80 percent reduction in greenhouse emissions by 2030.

Crocker announced upcoming clean energy vision goals Black Hills is making that involve solar electricity generation and electric vehicle projects. Polis said he applauds the company for its clean energy plan.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis said Black Hills Energy's clean energy plan is "welcome news."

“I am so excited to join Black Hills in this announcement,” Polis said. “I launched my candidacy for governor in Pueblo at the only solar-run coffee roaster in the country (Solar Roast Coffee, 226 N. Main St.) and committed to the ambitious goal of saving rate-payer money with 100% renewable energy by 2040.

More:Black Hills Energy’s planned solar project advances to final stage

"As you know, Pueblo — the city, and later the county — was the first in Colorado to embrace a 100% renewable energy commitment,” Polis said.

Black Hill’s new solar project, dubbed Renewable Advantage, will be built in western Pueblo County and will be online in 2023, Crocker said.

When asked about energy rates being higher in Pueblo compared to the rest of the state, and how much of a drop in electric bills will Puebloans see, Crocker mentioned the project is expected to save Black Hills nearly 290,000 Colorado customers $66 million in rates in the 15 years after it goes online.

"In these tough economic times that we’ve seen, keeping energy bills stable for our customers is more important than ever,” Crocker said.

He said the Renewable Advantage project also will lead to $180 million in direct and indirect economic impact to the region through state, federal and local taxes.

Right now the company is working with the project developer and he did not know exactly when construction will start. The project is expected to generate 250 construction jobs.

Crocker did not know the exact number of long-term jobs the project would generate. Black Hills has 400 employees in Colorado today.

“This will be our company’s largest renewable energy project to date," Crocker said. "When Renewable Advantage comes online more than half of our total generation mix here in Colorado will be coming from renewable resources, leading to a 70% emissions reduction by 2024 compared to 2005 levels."

He said Black Hills will be “almost there several years ahead of schedule,” in meeting the state’s 80% emissions reduction goal. He said the transition is “not only good for our climate, it is good for jobs and economic development in our state.”

Black Hills Energy solar garden panels in Rocky Ford are pictured.

“We know our customers want more renewable,” Crocker said.

He said Black Hills is investing in community solar gardens which are part of an energy resource plan customers can take advantage of even if they choose not to invest in rooftop solar panels.

The company also is seeking Colorado Public Utilities Commission approval for its Ready Electric Vehicle Program which will offer rebates for customers who install electric vehicle charging stations at their homes or businesses.

More:Opponents of Black Hills power line sue Pueblo commissioners over approval

“We retired our last coal plant in 2012, becoming the first Colorado electric utility to be coal free,” Crocker said.

“Since then we’ve started three Southern Colorado wind farms (in Huerfano County).

"We call those Peak View, Bush Ranch One and Bush Ranch Two, which together deliver 150-megawatts of capacity to our customers. I am also proud to say the equipment for Bush Ranch Two was made right here in Pueblo at the Vestas plant,” Crocker said.

“We’ve just barely scratched the surface,” Crocker added. “We believe Southern Colorado can be a renewable energy capitol of our state.”

Chieftain reporter Tracy Harmon covers business and Fremont County news. She can be reached by email at tharmon@chieftain.com or via Twitter at twitter.com/tracywumps.