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Black Hills Energy to use large-scale solar power for the first time

Solar panels power

Black Hills Energy already buys power from wind farms. It also buys excess generation from residential and commercial solar producers.

The Fall River Solar Project is the utility's first investment in a large-scale source of solar power.

"For the Black Hills Energy customers it just means that a portion of the energy that they're going to be supplied is going to be powered by solar energy coming from our project," said Bailey Plummer, one of the project leaders.

Black Hills Energy's service area includes74,000 customers in the Black Hills region of South Dakota and northeastern Wyoming.

The company has a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in its electric operations by 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2040.

The service map for Black Hills Energy
Black Hills Energy
The service map for Black Hills Energy

Fall River Solar is owned and operated by Greenbacker Renewable Energy, and Borrego Energy is constructing the project. It will connect with Black Hills Energy's grid.

Black Hills Energy already has wind power, which is mostly collected at night, said Plummer, vice president of investments at Greenbacker. Solar power is collected during the day, when customers use more energy.

"So what the solar project energy is going to do is just make the renewable energy fleet a little more reliable," Plummer said.

Construction on the 80-megawatt project recently began at a 500-acre property southeast of the Black Hills near the small town of Oelrichs. It's expected to be operational in December 2022.

The solar panels will generate enough power for 17,747 homes each year. They will offset 148,548 tons of CO2 emissions.

Greenbacker will hire 300-350 construction workers and hopes to hire as many locals as possible, Plummer said. One or two people will be hired to maintain the site once it's operational.

The Fall River Solar Project did not have to be approved the Public Utilities Commission, which only reviews projects that are more than 100 megawatts, Plummer said.

The former project developer did file a complaint against Black Hills Energy so the PUC could help determine the power purchase rate.

That rate is private but is an affordable market rate, Plummer said.

Arielle Zionts, rural health care correspondent, is based in South Dakota. She primarily covers South Dakota and its neighboring states and tribal nations. Arielle previously worked at South Dakota Public Broadcasting, where she reported on business and economic development.