Bighorn solar project is a 300MW photovoltaic (PV) solar farm developed by Lightsource bp to power the EVRAZ Rocky Mountain steel mill in Pueblo, Colorado, US.

It is the largest on-site solar power plant as well as the first such facility in the country to be dedicated to a steel mill.

The construction of the solar farm began in October 2020 and was completed in October 2021. Lightsource bp also serves as the owner and operator of the solar facility.

Xcel Energy, an electric and natural gas services provider, purchases electricity from the Bighorn solar project and sells it to EVRAZ North America, the owner and operator of the steel mill.

The solar farm will enable Xcel Energy to achieve its Colorado Energy Plan target of delivering 55% renewable energy to the grid by 2026 along with a 60% reduction in carbon emissions. It will also support the company’s vision of providing 100% carbon-free electricity to customers by 2050.

The solar project created 300 direct jobs during the construction phase and is expected to generate more than $22m in local tax revenue.

Bighorn solar project details

The Bighorn solar project is built on 728ha (1,800 acres) of land on the EVRAZ Rocky Mountain steel property in the city of Pueblo, Colorado. It generates 300MW of direct current (DC) and 240MW of alternating current (AC).

The facility is powered by more than 750,000 solar panels, which are bifacial solar photovoltaic (PV) modules on single-axis trackers.

Power purchase agreement

The power generated from the project is purchased by Xcel Energy under a 20-year power purchase agreement (PPA). The generated electricity is then supplied to the EVRAZ Rocky Mountain steel mill facility, which recycles scrap metal into new, clean steel.

The solar farm is intended to provide cost-effective electricity for the operation and expansion of the EVRAZ steel mill. After the commissioning of the Bighorn solar farm in October 2021, EVRAZ became the first steel mill in North America to largely depend on solar power.

Benefits of the solar farm

The solar farm is expected to produce 613,400 megawatt-hours of energy a year, offsetting approximately 90% of the steel mill’s annual electricity demand.

It will save 433,770t of CO₂ a year, equivalent to removing 92,100 cars from the roads.

Financing for Bighorn solar project

The Bighorn solar project was developed with an investment of $285m raised by Lightsource bp and project investors.

Lightsource bp closed the $285m financing package for the project in October 2020. The company secured tax equity financing from Bank of America, while debt for the facility was provided by Sumitomo Mitsui Banking Corporation (SMBC), Societe Generale and Export Development Canada (EDC).

Contractors involved

Lightsource bp awarded a contract to McCarthy Building Companies to provide engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) services for the project.

Canadian Solar, a PV panel manufacturer based in Ontario, Canada, supplied the solar modules for the project. The single-axis trackers supporting the solar panels were supplied by NEXTracker.

Operis conducted a review of the financial model for Lightsource bp for the solar project. CohnReznick Capital advised Lightsource bp on the tax equity transaction.

Lightsource bp’s solar portfolio

In addition to Bighorn, Lightsource bp’s solar projects portfolio in the US includes the Impact Solar project (260MW), Elm Branch Solar project (163MW) and Briar Creek Solar project (153MW) in Texas, and Bellflower Solar project (190MW) and Peony Solar project (315MW) in Indiana.

The Conway Solar project (132MW) in Arkansas, Black Bear Solar project (130MW) in Alabama, Penn State project (70MW) in Pennsylvania, Johnson Corner Solar project (27MW) in Kansas, Wildflower Solar project (16MW) in California, Grants and Bluewater Solar project (9MW) in Mexico, and Birch Solar project (375MW) in Ohio also form part of the company’s US renewable energy portfolio.

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