LDC Focus: Spotlight on Black Hills Energy
Black Hills Energy is ready to make tomorrow even better than today
Over the course of its 138-year history, Black Hills Energy, based in Rapid City, S.D., has been guided by its values and mission of improving life with energy. The utility company provides essential energy services to help advance the well-being of its customers and communities. The company is humbled and motivated by this responsibility and considers it a privilege to provide electricity and natural gas to nearly 1.3 million businesses and families in its eight-state service territory.
Last year, Black Hills Energy announced climate goals to reduce electric emissions intensity 40% by 2030 and 70% by 2040 and reduce natural gas emissions intensity 50% by 2035. The company is well on its way to achieving these goals, with 30% reduction in electric emissions and 33% reduction in natural gas emissions since 2005.
Black Hills Energy’s natural gas utilities serve more than one million customers in six states. The company operates a gas system above industry standards, with no cast-iron pipe since 2014 and nearly 99% of its infrastructure comprised of protected steel or plastic, materials with the lowest emissions factors.
Black Hills Energy’s comprehensive, programmatic integrity management program monitors its natural gas pipeline systems and plans upgrades to its pipeline networks to enhance safety, improve system reliability and reduce or eliminate methane emissions (see Figure 1). The program assesses risk and prioritizes the replacement or upgrading of pipeline to proactively replace vintage and at-risk materials while achieving greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions reduction goals. Since 2005, Black Hills Energy has reduced its distribution system’s GHG emissions by approximately 33,000 metric tons (CO2e) while expanding our system by more than 6,000 miles to serve its customers.
The company’s comprehensive damage prevention strategy increases system safety and lowers the potential for methane to be released from a damaged natural gas pipeline. By conducting outreach and education, Black Hills Energy helps prevent pipeline hits and mitigate emissions.
Renewable natural gas. Black Hills Energy’s natural gas supply includes renewable natural gas (RNG) from landfills and wastewater treatment facilities. The company receives RNG into its pipelines from three facilities in Nebraska and one in Iowa, capturing methane that would otherwise vent into the atmosphere. In addition, the utility is actively pursuing dozens of RNG projects and has identified more than 60 potential RNG projects across its service territories. Black Hills Energy sees great potential to generate RNG supplies throughout its vast agricultural service area. For example, two of its current RNG Projects, the Lincoln Water Resource Recovery Facility project and the Sarpy County Landfill Gas Project, Neb., produces enough pipeline quality RNG to fuel about 8,000 homes a year.
Expanded leak detection and surveying. By collecting detailed emissions data from its system, Black Hills Energy can identify new opportunities for reductions. In addition to its regular system-wide leak surveying, the company conducts additional leak surveys of its aboveground natural gas equipment to help determine fugitive emissions from its system. In 2020, the utility began surveying two additional states, Colorado and Nebraska, which joined Arkansas in its surveying program as required by the EPA Greenhouse Gas reporting program. The additional surveys conducted helped the company identify fugitive emissions from its system that otherwise would not have been found as quickly.
– This article appeared in the Gas Technology supplement.