EVRAZ, Xcel looking for new solar contractor

Peter Roper | May 7, 2019 | The Pueblo Chieftain

Rebidding surfaced in debate over PUC legislation

EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel and Xcel Energy are having to find a new contractor for the planned 240-megawatt solar power array that is part of the power agreement between the Pueblo steelmaker and the state’s largest utility.

EVRAZ and Xcel filed a notice on March 26 with the Colorado Public Utilities Commission that the winner of the initial bid had notified them it couldn’t meet the original promised price.

That contractor is identified in Denver news reports as Coronal Energy, of Pasadena, California.

The special 22-year power contract between EVRAZ and Xcel was approved by the PUC last August as part of Xcel’s Colorado Energy Plan, which includes a major shift to renewables as well as decommissioning the coal-fired Comanche 1 and 2 units at the Comanche Station south of Pueblo.

EVRAZ is Xcel’s sole electric customer in the Pueblo region.

Guaranteeing a longstanding power price to EVRAZ was a key reason the steel company cited in going ahead with a $480 million investment in the Pueblo mill aimed at producing longer railroad rails.

The rebidding decision came up in the state Senate last week, as Democrats pushed through the approval of Senate Bill 236 that was originally introduced by Senate President Leroy Garcia to reauthorize the PUC— something the Legislature has to do periodically.

But the bill had become much more than that.

A House bill to impose new emission requirements on Xcel, as well as giving the utility more ability to recover the costs of shifting to renewable energy, was rolled into the final version of the PUC legislation before it came back to the Senate for final approval last Friday.

The bill was clearly aimed at Xcel, though some of its provisions are also available to Black Hills Energy, the state’s other investor-owned utility, which serves Pueblo and several Arkansas Valley towns.

Specifically, Xcel would be able to add a 1.5% surcharge to its monthly bills to pay for transferring to renewable sources.

Bill Levis, an energy advocate for AARP, which represents seniors, said the group fears that low-income people and retirees would feel the brunt of the surcharge as Xcel hands the cost of creating renewables to ratepayers.

“With improvements in battery storage and better renewable technology, the only people who will still be dependent on the utilities in the future will be low-income and older consumers,” he said.

AARP intends to intervene with the PUC on the terms of the new legislation, Levis said.

Senate Republicans objected to the bill last Friday on the grounds that it violated state law that says legislation can only address one subject at a time —and the PUC reauthorization bill did much more than that.

Gov. Jared Polis hasn’t signed the legislation yet.