PUEBLO - Black Hills Energy may soon be moving forward with a proposed wind farm in Huerfano County after a settlement was reached last week.
The company reached a settlement with a number of parties that were initially against the proposal, and now there is no opposition moving forward. The only thing left standing between ratepayers and cleaner energy with lower rates is the Public Utilities Commission's final decision.
For more than a year, Black Hills has been working towards more renewable resources as required by law. A community solar garden currently in the works is part of that, and the utility giant had hoped a new 60-megawatt wind farm could help them reach the goal of 30% renewable energy output by 2020.
The PUC denied the wind farm proposal both initially and on appeal, until Black Hills re-evaluated the natural gas price forecast this summer. That forecast is how they predict savings for ratepayers, and it seems to have made all the difference. "We have some parties who have taken no position on it, but there are a number of the interveners that are parties to the agreement," says Bret Jones, senior external affairs manager for Black Hills.
The PUC has yet to set a date to consider the new settlement, but Black Hills requests they make a decision by November so the farm can be on-line by the end of 2016. It promises no rate increases to customers for at least the first ten years. Jones says, "We've identified, or projected, $34 million in customer savings in the first ten years of the project, so we see that as a real value."
Over the lifetime of the project, Black Hills ratepayers are forecast to save more than $94 million over what they would be paying with natural gas-generated electricity. Conservationists say the deal is a win-win for everyone.
"Long term we're going to see stabilized energy rates," says Kiera Hatton, the Pueblo organizer for Conservation Colorado. "That's something I've been working for, for years, as have lots of members of our coalitions. That's really important to have stable energy rates for the poorer areas of our state."
Jones adds, "It's nice when you can align those interests, and there's a benefit. They see a benefit not only to the environment, but also to our customers."
Part of the agreement is that Black Hills would have to do a cost-analysis each of the first ten years of the project, to prove they are actually saving money through wind energy.
News 5 will continue to follow this story and update you when the PUC makes a decision.