No deal is perfect. But one recently agreed to by Colorado’s largest power provider and one of Pueblo’s largest employers seemed to make enough sense to sign off on it.
The agreement between Xcel Energy, which does business as Public Service of Colorado, and EVRAZ, Pueblo’s steel mill, means the two will be in business for at least the next 23 years. One of the pillars of the deal calls for a fixed electricity rate and the construction of a 240 megawatt solar power facility to be built on the EVRAZ property. The new energy source will replace coal as the primary fuel for operations.
While there was some opposition to the abandonment of coal as a unique power source at the Comanche Plant, Xcel was pleased with the switch. The company said that “renewable energy is one contributor that has already helped reduce average residential consumer bills” in Colorado. Xcel says clean energy has lowered utility bills by about nine percent over the last five years.
As part of the agreement, Xcel will decommission two coal-powered turbines south of the city and replace them with an 1,100 megawatt array of solar and wind-generated alternatives. The P.U.C. must still provide final agreement on the contract, but there appears to be little standing in the way of that happening.
EVRAZ, which employs between 800-900 workers in Pueblo is Xcel’s single largest customer in Colorado. It had threatened to relocate to another location where power would be cheaper. “Working together, we found an innovative approach to expanding renewable energy that benefits not only EVRAZ, but all our customers,” said Alice Jackson, president Xcel Energy-Colorado in an Xcel news release announcing the agreement.
“We see it as very positive not only for Pueblo but for the entire state,” said Rod Slyhoff, President of the Greater Pueblo Chamber of Commerce. Slyhoff said the product that comes out of Pueblo’s EVRAZ operation will give the city a prominent place on the map both nationally and internationally especially in an age when both light and highspeed rail are gaining as ground transportation options. “If highspeed rail comes to the country,” he said, Pueblo’s name will be on the wheels that carry the trains down the tracks.
The outlook for better and more efficient rail service could not come at a better time for EVRAZ and Xcel. “The agreement forms a foundation for EVRAZ to evaluate investment projects directed at upgrading and modernizing,” said Xcel. Increased production usually means a larger workforce.
It may not translate into the kind of workforce that the Colorado Fuel & Iron Corporation---Pueblo’s original steel mill---once had when 10,000 workers punched the CF&I clock, but it could easily exceed EVRAZ current numbers.
EVRAZ is a Russian-owned company headquartered in London, United Kingdom, that manufacturers rails, wheel and railcar components. It maintains operations in Russia, eastern Europe, Canada, Colorado, Oregon and Pennsylvania. Its U.S. headquarters are in Chicago. Worldwide, EVRAZ employs 80,000 workers.