Colorado’s Now Home to the World’s Largest Solar-Powered Steel Plant
January 24, 2023
The giant steel company was able to begin building the world’s largest solar-powered steel plant tucked right in the heart of the Rockies. To do this, Evraz North America (headquartered in Chicago) partnered with Xcel Energy and Lightsource BP in 2019.
A combination of hard work, innovative ideas and a passion for renewable energy made the Bighorn Solar project possible.
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Evraz Steel Plant History and Background
Founded in 1881, Pueblo’s steel mill is rich in American industrial history.
As the first and only steel supplier in the western U.S. during the early 20th century, Evraz Pueblo played a key role in connecting people and goods throughout the Rockies and further west.
But the mill’s steel production eventually dropped drastically. The U.S. began importing the majority of its steel, which caused the mill to lose most of its rail manufacturing business.
More specifically, one of the mill’s largest customers was Union Pacific Railroad, which previously ordered the bulk of its steel rail from Evraz Pueblo. In 2015, Union Pacific began purchasing its steel rail from a Japanese corporation. As a result, Pueblo’s mill lost about 70% of its business.
Furthermore, unfair steel import trades had a wide-scale negative impact on domestic workers and companies.
In March 2018, Section 232 introduced a 25% tariff on steel imports, putting a halt to cheap, foreign steel imports. The trade action finally allowed Evraz North America to swing its Pueblo location (and others) back into better business.
The Project: What Does It Entail?
The Bighorn Solar project has a 20-year, fixed-rate structure that allows Evraz Rocky Mountain Steel to maintain predictable energy prices. It also allows the mill’s approximately 1,600 employees to stay in the Pueblo area.
The project will host 750,000 solar panels spanning 1,800 acres. The project aims to generate 300 MW for the Rocky Mountain Steel mill for Evraz.
The developer of the solar project is Lightsource BP, based in Bighorn, North Dakota. On top of powering the world’s most sustainable steel plant, the solar project’s also the largest on-site solar facility in the country used by a single customer.
Its development demanded a $285 million investment. Fortunately, Lightsource BP and other project investors rose to the challenge and raised the funds.
Once construction is complete, the solar panel system array will provide over 90% of the steel mill’s required power, which will reduce about 500,000 metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions. According to a case study, this equals the emissions of more than 92,000 fuel-powered vehicles.
Solar energy will help power the mill’s processing of over 1 billion pounds of steel turned into 100-meter sections (think tens of millions of these). Workers then weld together those rail sections to form sticks reaching one-quarter mile long. Then, the sticks dispatch all across North America.
The solar-powered steel plant will also feature an arced electric furnace that melts together old scrap-metal pieces to repurpose for later use. This is another example of the companies’ collective dedication to sustainable efforts.
Powering the Steel Industry With Solar Power: Why Is It Important?
In 2018, each ton of steel produced resulted in about 1.85 tons of carbon dioxide. That makes the steel industry responsible for around 8% of the world’s total carbon emissions.
With emissions that vast, it’s no wonder companies are seeking alternative, sustainable solutions. Evraz North America updated its environmental strategy to reduce its total gas emissions from steel production by 33% by 2030.
The newly solar-powered plant not only makes electricity prices more predictable but also prevents the mill’s steel production from relocating to an area with cheaper energy rates.
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Colorado’s Clean Energy Goals
Per the Colorado Energy Plan, the project will support Colorado’s goal of lowering the state’s overall pollution. The solar-powered mill aims to send 55% of its renewable energy to the grid by 2026 and reduce its carbon emissions by 60%.
While this doesn’t meet Xcel Energy’s goal of delivering 100% carbon-free electricity by 2050, industries certainly need to take these steps to meet it.
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Featured image via Unsplash