Black Hills Energy’s southern Colorado wind farm plan OK’d by PUC

Source: By Laura Keeney, Denver Post • Posted: Friday, October 23, 2015

Black Hills Energy on Wednesday got the go-ahead to build a 60 megawatt wind farm in southern Colorado, the Colorado Public Utilities Commission said.

Black Hills, based in Rapid City, S.D., serves about 94,000 customers in Pueblo, Cañon City and other parts of southern Colorado.

The proposed project, called Peak View Wind, will place 34 wind turbines on about 31,000 acres in Huerfano and Las Animas counties.

This is a do-over for Black Hills after its initial proposal to acquire additional renewable energy sources, including the wind farm, was rejected by the PUC in April.

That ruling said the options proposed by Black Hills would be an additional burden to customers. The PUC urged Black Hills to rethink the project.

Pueblo Black Hills customers have suffered rate hikes since 2008, when the company purchased the local utility, Aquila, and replaced its coal-fired plants with natural gas. Black Hills passed the infrastructure costs on to ratepayers.

Adding to the burden was a decision by  Xcel Energy to back out of its agreement to sell excess energy to the utility saying it could make more money selling its power to Denver customers,  the Washington Post reported in July 2014. About 75 percent of Pueblo’s energy demand was met by Xcel.

Customers bore the fallout of this, too. In December, the  PUC approved a $3.1 million electric rate hike for Black Hills.

The proposal, as approved, would have would have “little to no impact on ratepayers” and “includes a more reasonable forecast of natural gas prices and potential customer savings,” the PUC wrote in a release.

Peak View Wind will also “substantially improve Black Hills’ ability to comply with the state’s Renewable Energy Standard,” the release said.

The PUC Wednesday also green-lighted a 2015-17 Renewable Energy Standard compliance plan for Black Hills that increases capacity for — and helps low-income customers to participate in — solar gardens.

The wind farm is expected to begin operating in November 2016, the proposal says.