At 600 employees across its Nebraska and Iowa footprint, Black Hills Energy’s staff size alone rivals many villages in this two-state region; however, this number is just one of many indicators to demonstrate how the nearly 140-year-old diversified energy company and electric and gas utility is growing right alongside our communities.
“Black Hills Energy has witnessed significant growth in Sarpy County as new residential communities and business ventures develop,” said Jennifer Peters, community affairs manager in Omaha. “In addition to our business development plans, Black Hills is committed to maintaining the integrity of our main and service lines through rigorous replacement and system upgrade projects across our footprint.”
Additionally, at the time of this writing, Peters noted that the corporation is completing gas meter replacement projects in Columbus, with similar projects in the Lincoln area, and central and western Nebraska in 2021 and this year. She also isolated its partnership with the city of Blair on a major relocation of a main transmission line.
Aptly, the company is rooted in South Dakota’s Black Hills Gold Rush. What got its start as Black Hills Electric Light Company of Deadwood, is now a corporation whose Black Hills Energy arm reportedly serves more than 1.3 million natural gas and electric utility customers across a territory that spans eight states and
“In 2021, our direct economic impact included charitable giving, compensation for almost 2,900 employees, franchise fees, payments to suppliers, and property, sales and use taxes paid to our communities was $1.9 billion,” Peters said.
Black Hills Energy’s 17 offices in Nebraska include its Lincoln headquarters, as well as its operations service center in Papillion, which primarily serves Sarpy County in metro Omaha. Additional field offices are scattered from Beatrice to Chadron, and Norfolk to McCook.
In Iowa, its Grimes headquarters is joined by eight field offices – including locations in Council Bluffs, Spencer and Newton.
“Our larger offices in Lincoln, Council Bluffs and Grimes house the technicians and operations staff plus professionals on the community affairs, government affairs, legal, compliance, human resources, finance, executive, business development, construction/engineering and environmental teams,” explained Bret Atkins, senior human resource manager. “Our service centers, like the Papillion location, are typically comprised of the gas technicians, construction planners, business development, measurement, damage prevention and other professionals.”
In all, across the state, there are upwards of 300,000 customers spanning 319-plus communities. Papillion alone, according to Peters, serves Bellevue, Blair, Gretna, La Vista, Ralston, Plattsmouth, and other areas within the Omaha metro. For comparison, almost 162,000 of our neighbors to the east are served by Black Hills Energy (some 133 communities). Peters isolated Council Bluffs, with 38,000 customers in the city proper, as well as Crescent, Carter Lake, Glenwood, Tabor, Sidney and Hamburg.
“Although each field office operates somewhat independently [in] handling service and maintenance locally, there are a number of shared resources both at the state level and from the corporate office in Rapid City, South Dakota,” Atkins added, when asked about how its locations interface. “Corporate branding and digital support, as well as accounts payable/receivable, is managed centrally from the Rapid City office.”
“Each state,” Atkins continued, “has one or more representative in government affairs, community affairs, business development and human resources … most of our business units operate from a few select offices overseeing projects statewide.”
Deep Roots, Bright Futures
Black Hills Energy’s roots in Nebraska and Iowa go back to 2008, when its parent company acquired operations formerly owned by Aquila, which itself was a legacy organization founded in Kansas in 1902 as Solomon Valley Mining Co.
As referenced by Peters, since that time, she said there have been “significant investments” both in utility infrastructure and in team members supporting its gas utility operations in the area and across its footprint.
“In 2019, Black Hills Energy built a natural gas training center in Council Bluffs, that is a state-of-the-art facility designed to provide technicians with hands-on learning,” she added.
Via partnerships with the likes of local community colleges, Atkins further noted it has been able to plan for the more than half of its workforce that has retired over the past decade.
“With our local workforce primarily being comprised of utility personnel, we are frequently hiring for technicians with heating and air degrees as well as welders, locators [and] gas operations personnel, including pipeline construction experience,” Atkins said.
Aside from creating and supporting jobs, Peters highlighted its partnerships with renewable energy developers to use landfills and wastewater recovery in producing renewable natural gas.
“In 2020, we announced our sustainability goal of reducing our methane emissions intensity by 50% by 2035 in our natural gas utilities,” she remarked. “We are making steady progress towards meeting that goal, partially through our continued investments in our infrastructure.”
It’s a goal Peters said will be realized through its distribution integrity management plans and programmatic replacement of unprotected pipeline (also improving safety and performance).
Peters also referenced Black Hills Energy’s impact via charitable giving – to the tune of $5.3 million last year. She also said nearly one-third of its employees volunteered for a collective 36,000-plus hours of volunteerism. Alongside its support organizations that are aiding local agencies in recovering from the effects of the pandemic, Peters also added that its energy assistance program, Black Hills Cares, was an “essential helping hand.”
“As the need increased, so did the giving,” she said. “In 2021, donations increased by 52% for a total of $768,000 … Almost 2,400 families were assisted with their energy needs.”
The company matches customers’ and employees’ contributions to Black Hills Cares dollar-for-dollar.
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