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Colorado Steel Mill Is Turning To Solar Power

Lightsource bp, the world’s third largest solar development and management company, announced last month that it will be launching a 300-megawatt solar array project in Pueblo, Colorado that will allow the local steel mill to be entirely powered by solar energy. The project will be fully operational by the end of 2021.

Titled the Bighorn Solar Project, the new undertaking by the renewable energy firm will be located on 1,800 acres of land belonging to the EVRAZ Pueblo Steel Mill. The array will reduce emissions from the plant, support over 1,000 jobs, and create more than 300 new roles.

Lightsource bp is a joint venture between Lightsource Renewable Energy, founded in 2010 in the United Kingdom, and oil industry leader BP, previously known as British Petroleum. In 2017, BP acquired 43% of Lightsource Renewable Energy’s shares for a total investment of $200 million. The newly merged entity was named Lightsource bp. 

Photo courtesy of Lightsource bp

Bighorn Solar Project is in partnership with Xcel Energy, a Minnesota-based utility holding company, and EVRAZ North America, an engineered steel producer whose offerings have longstanding ties to rail and industrial markets across the continent. 

EVRAZ is headquartered in Chicago, Illinois and has two production sites in the United States — one in Portland, Oregon and the other in Pueblo, Colorado. Employing over 1,400 people in the United States, the company’s product offerings include rail and large diameter steel products, as well as specialty tubular items like coils, welded pipes and plates. 

Historically, America’s rail and steel works have been touted as a fossil-fuel powered industry, evoking images of coal burning, heavy pollution and laborious construction of the transcontinental railroads that would eventually help catalyze America’s economic boom. Now, those notions are being challenged, and the dark exhaust from coal engines are being replaced with sleekly designed, emission-free photovoltaic panels, marking a new age in the relationship between the industrial sector and environmentalism.

Photo courtesy of Lightsource bp

The Bighorn Solar Project consists of 750,000 solar panels on the EVRAZ site, and will be America’s largest, on-site solar energy provider when operational.  The Pueblo site already recycles discarded scrap metal to be included in new steel products, and EVRAZ is known internationally for their commitment to sustainable railway products. 

The EVRAZ facility (background, left) will be powered by the solar energy gained from the array (foreground, right) / Photo courtesy of Lightsource bp

Although the Bighorn Solar Project is on EVRAZ property and will power all of their operations, the project is financially backed and owned by Lightsource bp. Lightsource bp has entered into a twenty year power purchase agreement  with Xcel Energy. In turn EVRAZ is contractually guaranteed clean, reliable energy from the site as well as “price certainty” through 2041, according to a press release from Lightsource bp. 

Through Bighorn, 433,770 metric tons of CO2 emissions will be offset in total — equating to the elimination of over 92,000 traditional fuel-powered cars from American roadways. 

Aaron, a technician with the project, poses behind a photovoltaic panel in the array // Photo courtesy of Lightsource bp

Dave Lawler, chairman and president of BP America wrote in a statement that “Bighorn Solar shows us what the future of American energy can look like. Renewable energy can create a more sustainable, competitive business. Projects like this can make companies more resilient and protect jobs through the energy transition.”

Bob Frenzel, president and CEO of Xcel Energy echoed Mr. Lawlers sentiment in the joint statement, adding that “through this collaboration [the companies are] bringing jobs to the community, harnessing…natural resources and increasing renewable energy in the [Colorado].”

Bighorn Solar Project’s results have yet to actualize, but nonetheless represent a meaningful step forward in the United States’ goal to reach net zero emissions across the entire economy by 2050. 


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