PUEBLO, Colorado — Construction is officially underway on the new long-rail mill at EVRAZ Rocky Mountain Steel in Pueblo. Company executives met with state and local leaders for a groundbreaking ceremony Wednesday morning.
Skip Herald, CEO of EVRAZ North America, told reporters the $500 million facility will keep his company competitive with foreign steelmakers. He explained that the new mill will produce rail segments in lengths that are currently only offered by steelmakers in Asian markets.
The project is estimated to generate around 800 construction jobs. Moving forward, it will have a staff of around 300 employees in addition to those who already work at other steel production facilities at the mill.
"We're really looking forward to stuff going vertical, and starting to see buildings come up and our equipment arrives and we get real construction started," Herald said.
The state-of-the-art rail mill will become the first to be powered completely by renewable energy. A 240-megawatt solar field will be built on-site by the UK-based Lightsource BP.
"This will be the greenest steel facility in North America and maybe the world," Herald said. "We start with over a million tons of recycled metals, or scrap, it goes into our furnace is re-melted and then melted into new products, and then all of the power for this facility will be provided by the sun, or from the solar facility."
Pueblo is already home to the tower manufacturing arm of the wind energy company Vestas. Mayor Nick Gradisar sees the renewable energy industry as the future of the community.
"Pueblo is going to be the renewable energy capital of the world," he said. "This rail mill and the mill itself is going to be the first steel mill in the world powered by solar energy, renewable energy."
Herald anticipates that his primary customers to be North American rail companies in the US and Canada. Executives from Union Pacific Railroad were on-hand to celebrate the groundbreaking along with Colorado Governor Jared Polis.
Mr. Polis reminded the crowd of the billions of dollars budgeted for rail improvement projects in the US under President Biden's infrastructure plan.
"This once-in-a-generation level of investment I think will bear strong benefits for EVRAZ, for Pueblo, and for our future," Polis said.
In April, Amtrak announced a nationwide plan to expand passenger rail service to 160 communities including a new route connecting Pueblo to Cheyenne, Wyoming. Colorado lawmakers recently created the Front Range Passenger Rail special district to help build and operate such a rail line.
Pueblo has roots in steel making. Generations of families have worked at the mill since its founding more than a century ago. Herald said the legacy of hard work is reflected in the labor force of today.
"At the end of the day, what makes this place special is the people," he said. "The people come here, they work hard every day, they take pride in this location."
Herald hopes construction will wrap up by late 2022 with the new mill beginning operation in 2023. The project was helped by $100 million in incentives through the Pueblo Economic Development Corporation.