Black Hills Corp. plans to expand its portfolio of natural gas and electric utilities in eight upper Midcontinent states with a "laser focus on utility growth,” according to CEO Linn Evans.

Capital spending plans for the Rapid City, SD-based company call for up to $2.5 billion over the next five years, with more than $1.6 billion for gas utilities that are being consolidated in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming, Evans said during a conference call with analysts Friday.

"We planned and managed through a comprehensive regulatory agenda in 2018," said Evans, who took over as CEO on Jan. 1. He pointed to one of the major achievements as gaining approval for a gas transmission pipeline in central Wyoming.

The Wyoming gas distribution utility is building a 35-mile, 12-inch diameter pipeline to enhance reliability for about 57,000 customers in the Casper area. Black Hills Gas Distribution LLC is building the $54 million Natural Bridge Pipeline, which would run from an interconnection point near Douglas, WY, to existing facilities near Casper. The project is slated to be in service late this year.

Earlier this month Black Hills filed with Colorado regulators to combine the rates, tariffs and services of its two gas distribution utilities.

"This is another step in our jurisdiction simplification initiative," said Evans. Colorado regulators in December approved the creation of a single utility, Black Hills Colorado Gas Inc.

Earnings in 4Q2018 totaled $88 million ($1.51/share), compared with $64 million ($1.17) for the same period in 2017. For 2018, earnings were $265 million ($4.75), compared with $194 million ($3.52) in 2017.

Black Hills serves 1.2 million customers also in eight states.