A steel mill in Pueblo that has been powered by coal during most of its roughly 140-year existence will now get most of its electricity from solar energy.
EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel welcomed state and local elected officials as well as its partners in the 300-megawatt Bighorn Solar project to the site Wednesday for a look at rows upon rows of solar panels that will fuel the business long identified with the city. Lightsource BP, a London-based developer and manager of solar projects around the world, said it believes EVRAZ is the first steel mill anywhere to be powered largely by solar energy.
“We really look at this project as a bit of a game changer in that it really kind of proves that you can take solar energy and make it very cost effective,” said Kevin Smith, CEO of Lightsource BP, Americas, which opened an office in Denver earlier this year.
The steel mill recycles scrap metal to produce rails and other products. Smith said using solar-generated electricity will make the mill’s products some of “the greenest steel” in the world.
The $285 million project is the result of an agreement between Lightsource BP, the owner, and Xcel Energy-Colorado, which will buy the electricity under a long-term power purchase agreement. The agreement will provide EVRAZ with fixed electricity rates through 2041.
EVRAZ, concerned about its rates going up, had considered moving out of Colorado after Xcel-Energy said it would close two coal-fired power plants in Pueblo earlier than planned and increase the use of renewable energy.
The mill employs about 1,000 people and plans to add several hundred more employees as part of a $500 million expansion, expected to be completed by 2023. Local officials have said the agreement between Xcel Energy and EVRAZ was the culmination of years of effort to ensure the mill stays in Pueblo. The state approved millions of dollars in tax incentive credits.
Skip Herald, CEO of EVRAZ North America, called the solar project “an incredible milestone.” The more than 750,000 solar panels across 1,800 acres will supply roughly 90% of the steel mill’s power.
The Bighorn Solar facility is generating electricity for the grid and is expected to be in full operation in November.
“We have an important opportunity to create more projects like this one all over the country as we strive to get 30% of U.S. electricity from solar by 2030,” Abigail Ross Hopper, president and CEO of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said in an email.
Dave Lawler, chairman and president of BP America, said the solar project is the start of what he hopes will be many similar projects. BP, which owns 50% of Lightsource BP, has set a goal of being net zero in its carbon emissions by 2050.
The global energy company has also announced the goals of cutting its oil and gas production by about 40% by 2030 and cutting its overall emissions by 30% by the middle of the decade.
“By using these 300 megawatts of solar-generated electricity (at EVRAZ), we’ll eliminate 434,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide every year, which is equivalent to 92,100 fuel-burning cars being removing from the road every year,” said Lawler, who is originally from Denver.
“The state of Colorado is very important to me, the environmental beauty that we have here that attracts so many people matters and that’s what makes this particular project so exciting,” Lawler added.
Established in 1881, EVRAZ Pueblo, formerly known as the Colorado Fuel and Iron Company, produces steel products including rail, seamless pipe, rod and coiled reinforcing bar.
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