Rapid City, SD-based Black Hills Corp. is undeterred by increased pressure from climate change advocates to phase out fossil fuel use, CEO Linn Evans said Wednesday.

During a conference call to discuss fourth quarter results, Evans discussed the impact by opponents to fossil fuels and whether that could impact the natural gas utilities. He said he was “very comfortable” with the company’s local distribution companies (LDC).

“Our service territories are very cold climates that are below zero degrees right now, so life would be lethal without the gas that we serve,” he said. “We have not had any local bans on gas within our service areas, but we are certainly aware of conversations going on and we have highly engaged teams executing outreach programs within those individual communities.”

Black Hills utility personnel are in contact with state legislators and working with various industry associations on the issue of natural gas bans. “We’re making sure our communities and stakeholders understand the value and necessity of gas and what it brings to the table,” he said. “We’re watching it closely and see a strong future for gas.”

CFO Rick Kinzley said the impacts from Covid-19 on gas and electric loads “were not substantial at all” as most of the territory did not have prolonged lockdowns.

“We’re about halfway through our heating season, and the first one with the pandemic, and the impact on our gas loads is what we call immaterial,” Evans said.

Regulatory relations in the territories served in Arkansas, Iowa, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, South Dakota and Wyoming remain strong, executives said. However, that’s not the case in Colorado. “We’re disappointed that the Colorado Public Utilities Commission dismissed our rate review filing,” Evans said. “We’re seeking a rehearing, and the commission should decide on that by the end of this month.”

The setback is not a sign that Black Hills has issues in Colorado. “We have strategies in place and now a leadership team around those efforts, so we’re in Colorado for the long term.”

Black Hills reported $77.2 million of earnings ($1.23/share) in 4Q2020, compared with $69.2 million ($1.13) for the same period in 2019. For 2020, earnings were $227.6 million ($3.65/share), compared with $199.3 million ($3.28) in 2019.