Black Hills Corp., with operations in eight states, has increased its five-year capital investment plans to $2.8 billion to focus on consolidating multiple natural gas utilities.

“We’ve continued to refine our capital investment plans, adding $246 million of customer opportunities and added the investments to our five-year level forecasts,” CEO Linn Evans said during an earnings conference call last week. “The added investment provides further confidence to our long-term expectations.”

The Rapid City, SD-based company’s gas utilities in Colorado, Nebraska and Wyoming are in various stages of the state regulatory approval processes. Black Hills expects Colorado to hold a hearing about consolidation in June. Evans also addressed whether more mergers and acquisitions (M&A) were on the table.

“Our approach on M&A hasn’t changed over the past few quarters,” he said. “The premiums being paid right now are awfully high, so right now our shareholders are better off if we’re putting a dollar in the ground and a dollar in the air and see what we can earn on that.

“We’ll see what happens over time with respect to that.” M&A “is not something we are focused on now, and it is not part of our strategic plan.”

In the meantime, Black Hills expects to complete consolidations and rate reviews on all of its gas utilities by late next year, Evans said.

Black Hills reported net earnings of $103.8 million ($1.73/share) in 1Q2019, compared with $135.3 million ($2.50) in the same period in 2018.