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Wind-power plan back in front of PUC

Black Hills Energy’s request to erect a new 60-megawatt addition to its wind-power complex in Huerfano County will be back in front of the Colorado Public Utilities Commission on Thursday.

The commissioners turned down the idea in February but Black Hills asked for a rehearing and it has the support of groups that are usually critics, such as the conservation group Western Resource Advocates. The request for a rehearing is on the PUC agenda for the meeting in Denver.

A 2010 state law setting renewable energy requirements for utilities says Black Hills must generate 20 percent of its electricity from renewable sources this year and that percentage jumps to 30 percent by 2020. The utility, which serves 94,000 electric customers in Southern Colorado, currently gets about 12 percent of its power from its Busch Wind Farm near Walsenburg.

The new request would add 34 wind turbines to that complex.

In filings with the PUC, Black Hills and its supporters argue the additional wind power would save ratepayers about $113 million over 25 years. The savings come whenever wind power is used and Black Hills doesn’t have to buy natural gas.

Christopher Burke, Black Hills vice president for Colorado, told The Pueblo Chieftaineditorial board the additional tower complex would be built by a third-party contractor. Black Hills would ultimately buy it, but in the future and at a depreciated cost.

Building the additional towers would bring Black Hills close to the requirement that utilities get 20 percent of their power from renewables this year.

The commissioners turned down the project in February. One reason was a concern that Black Hills fund for paying for renewable energy credits was over $1 million in deficit. The account is funded by a 2 percent charge on all customers.

But the request also has the backing of some groups that are usually critics of Black Hills, such as Western Resource Advocates and ratepayer advocates in Pueblo.

In its 2015 report to the federal Securities and Exchange Commission, Black Hills Corp. – the parent company of Black Hills Energy – said its Colorado operations were well within federal and state environmental emission limits and should remain so for another 30 years.

Burke noted that the utility’s gas-fired Pueblo Airport Generation Station produces 30 percent less carbon emissions than a similar amount of coal-fired energy.