Consumer Assistance | Energy | Telecom | Warehouse | Commission Actions | Miscellaneous

2011 Highlights


January – Mid-June

Steve Kolbeck, Chairman
Gary Hanson, Vice Chairman
Chris Nelson, Commissioner

Mid-June – December
Gary Hanson, Chairman
Chris Nelson, Vice Chairman
Kristie Fiegen, Commissioner (as of Aug. 9)


Energy Efficiency
Grain Warehouse

Natural Gas
Public Outreach and Consumer Assistance
Pipeline Safety and Inspection
Renewable Energy


  • Introduced House Bill 1016, grain warehouse legislation, which added language to include electronic warehouse receipts as a form of negotiable instrument. The bill also clarified other points of the existing statutes.

  • Updated state law via Senate Bill 24 to increase the general rate increase filing fee paid by rate-regulated investor-owned natural gas or electric utilities from $125,000 to $250,000. The fee had not been raised in 16 years, during which time rate cases had become more complicated resulting in higher fees. The most recent rate case the PUC handled prior to the legislation had a cost of more than $287,000, which exceeded the filing fee by more than $162,000.

  • Shepherded the passage of Senate Bill 26 to allow a rate-regulated natural gas or electric public utility to implement an interim rate without commission approval that is lower than what the utility initially proposed when it filed its rate case. The interim rate is in effect pending a final rate case decision by the PUC.

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  • Commissioner Steve Kolbeck was appointed as a co-vice chair of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Committee on Telecommunications.

  • After an extensive review of a complex issue with considerable input from industry, adopted new switched access rules that revise how rates are set for competitive local exchange carriers. Rules state that a CLEC's intrastate switched access rates shall not exceed the intrastate switched access rate of the Regional Bell Operating Company (CenturyLink) operating in the state.

  • Monitored, at local and national levels, issues related to completion of calls to customers of rural telecommunications companies. Researched complaints from consumers and companies. Submitted comments to the FCC in support of an investigation of call routing practices of certain telecommunications providers. Presented a summary of the PUC's handling of such consumer complaints to statewide telephone company office professionals.

  • Deemed 41 telecommunications companies as eligible to collectively receive millions of dollars in high cost support from the federal Universal Service Fund for maintaining, upgrading and building out their networks in South Dakota in 2012. The Universal Service Administration Company estimates companies invested more than $90 million in USF monies for high cost support in South Dakota in 2010.

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  • Approved a lower-than-requested natural gas rate increase for NorthWestern Energy. The company asked to raise its rates by 7.2 percent; the PUC approved a 3.3 percent increase. The case included a six-month review. A public meeting was held in Scotland, at the request of residents, to hear customer concerns about the rate increase.

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  • Commissioner Gary Hanson delivered a presentation to fellow state regulators at the national American Wind Energy Association convention. Hanson's remarks focused on renewable energy, electric transmission and regulatory issues in the county and the specific impact in South Dakota.

  • Adopted a new chapter of rules related to renewable energy credits and renewable, recycled and conserved energy. A number of electric service providers provided comments and participated in the rules review process.

  • Compiled the annual South Dakota Renewable, Recycled and Conserved Energy Objective report and submitted it to the state legislature. Companies reporting for 2010 collectively owned 349 megawatts of renewable generation capacity in South Dakota; retired 14,160 megawatt hours of renewable energy credits; and reported 8,122 MWh in conserved energy and 96 MW of conserved capacity, all in South Dakota.

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  • No reportable pipeline safety incidents occurred on jurisdictional pipelines in the state. Reportable incidents include, but are not limited to, events involving a release of gas from a pipeline where death, injury or $50,000 or more of property damage occurs. Jurisdictional pipelines typically start at the gas connection to a town and end at the outlet of each individual house meter.

  • Hosted the South Dakota/North Dakota Pipeline Safety Operator Training in Sioux Falls for more than 110 members of the pipeline industry. Attendees participated in seminars about regulations, damage prevention, pipe protection, distribution integrity management, investigations and an educational tour of a landfill gas system.

  • Nathan Solem, pipeline safety program manager, was elected as the vice chairman of the Central Region National Association of Pipeline Safety Representatives.

  • Proposed penalties against two pipeline operators for pipeline safety violations. The dockets will be decided in 2012.

  • Pipeline safety staff participated in more than 940 hours of training.

  • Completed 126 days of pipeline safety inspections, exceeding the federal requirement of 85 days.

  • Received a score of 99.75 out of a possible 100 on the federal audit conducted by the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration's Office of Pipeline Safety.

  • Conducted distribution integrity management program inspections of pipeline operators in Illinois, Washington and Arizona along with other state inspectors as part of pilot process to test new federal inspection requirements. Nathan Solem, pipeline safety program manager, participated in the inspections as part of his service on the joint PHMSA-NAPSR DIMP implementation task force.

  • Issued safe digging reminders to the public via a statewide news release that promoted the use of the South Dakota One Call system.

  • Coordinated a survey of pipeline safety stakeholders including South Dakota One Call, utility companies, excavators and locating companies to gather input on damage prevention program improvements.

  • Led two training webinars about public awareness attended by 27 pipeline operators.

  • Conducted in-house research that revealed a strong downward trend, since 1997, in leaks per 1,000 miles of main intrastate pipeline and a slight downward trend in aboveground leaks on distribution services, per 1,000 services.

  • Issued nearly 200 notices of probable violations and warnings.

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  • Continued monitoring activities related to VeraSun's bankruptcy. Negotiated final settlement with the surety on behalf of three producers who had not been paid for grain.
  • Issued more than 300 licenses and performed 366 on-site inspections.

  • Attended a presentation and tour of the Glacial Lakes Energy ethanol production facility in Watertown.

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  • Hosted a pre-session PUC briefing for legislators. The forums featured an update about wind energy development in South Dakota, forthcoming EPA regulations, Keystone pipelines and the Federal Communications Commission's recent order that overhauls telecommunications funding support. The event attracted nearly 30 legislators and a number of utility industry representatives.

  • Assisted consumers on more than 2,700 occasions with issues and complaints related to electric, natural gas, telecommunications (including wireless), energy efficiency and other utility-related topics.

  • Conducted personal consumer outreach at home shows in Sioux Falls and Rapid City and fairs in Aberdeen, Sioux Falls and Huron. Commissioners and staff met with more than 4,300 consumers to answer questions about utility issues and promote energy efficiency, Lifeline and Link-Up telephone assistance programs and the Do Not Call registry.

  • Helped to increase the amount of South Dakota telephone numbers on Do Not Call registry to 579,114.

  • Revamped the PUC's Do Not Call website to better organize information for consumers and telemarketers.

  • Revised rules regarding the overbilling or underbilling of customers due to meter errors. Rulemaking was a result of consumer complaints filed with the commission the previous year.

  • Commissioner Chris Nelson was a guest lecturer for Brookings eighth grade science classes. Nelson and the students discussed wind, hydro and solar applications in South Dakota.

  • Commissioners Gary Hanson and Chris Nelson were speakers at the AARP South Dakota Utilities Symposium.

  • Hosted MONUMENTAL MARC 2011, the annual meeting of the Mid-America Regulatory Conference in Rapid City under the direction of MARC president, Commissioner Steve Kolbeck. More than 300 representatives from utility commissions in the Midwest and utility services companies as well as nearly 100 guests attended. Educational sessions focused on energy, telecommunications, water and professional development topics. Social events included a visit to Mount Rushmore National Memorial and a cook-out in Custer State Park.

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  • Welcomed Commissioner Chris Nelson who was appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to fill a vacancy created by Commissioner Dusty Johnson's resignation. Johnson departed the PUC to serve as Gov. Daugaard's chief of staff.

  • Bid farewell to Commissioner Steve Kolbeck who resigned to become South Dakota operations manager for CenturyLink.

  • Welcomed Commissioner Kristie Fiegen who was appointed by Gov. Daugaard to fill the remainder of Commissioner Kolbeck's term after his resignation.

  • Commissioner Gary Hanson was voted to serve as PUC chairman and Commissioner Chris Nelson was voted vice chairman. The new leadership became effective mid-year.

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  • Approved energy efficiency plans by investor-owned utilities that offer cost and energy savings to customers. The plans were filed as a result of energy efficiency workshops commission staff initiated in 2010:

    • Black Hills Power – Plan provides rebates, audits and educational programs to qualified customers that install energy-efficient equipment and devices to help them reduce their energy use. Collective energy savings during the first three years of the plan are estimated to be more than 13.3 million kilowatt hours.

    • Xcel Energy – An expansion of the company's previously-approved plan, the update includes programs for lighting, ground source heat pumps, air conditioning and education. The programs have an estimated potential of saving more than 48.1 million kWh.

    • MidAmerican Energy – A one-year extension of the company's plan was approved. Annual savings are estimated to be approximately 246,000 therms of natural gas and 674,000 kWh.

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  • Commissioner Gary Hanson was a featured speaker at the Aspen Energy Policy Forum, addressing electric transmission issues affecting the Midwest.

  • Intervened and filed comments with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission asking the agency to study how regulations of the Environmental Protection Agency will impact the reliability and affordability of electricity. The PUC pointed out that numerous proposed EPA regulations that will become effective over a very compressed time frame have the potential to cause the premature retirement of a number of generating facilities in the Midwest, creating serious reliability and economic consequences. Attended separate presentations by Black Hills Power and Otter Tail Power Co., including a tour of the Big Stone power plant, to learn how the companies interpret the impact of the regulations on their operations.

  • Completed an extensive rate case review for Otter Tail Power Co. resulting in a 2.32 percent increase in electric rates. The review and negotiation process among staff, staff consultants and company representatives trimmed $2.1 million in annual revenues from the company's request of a 9.96 percent rate increase.

  • Continued working with counterparts from 39 states and eight Canadian provinces on the Eastern Interconnect States' Planning Council to evaluate transmission development options throughout the eastern interconnection. Completed Phase I, which defined three generation and transmission scenarios (from 70) that support the forecast needs of the eastern interconnection through 2050. Scenarios will be analyzed in Phase II to examine the economic efficiency of each.

  • Approved an application by Xcel Energy for the company's environmental measures cost recovery tariff. The action allows the company to collect from ratepayers eligible costs associated with new mercury control systems installed on two of its coal-fired generating plants.

  • Approved a new environmental measures cost recovery tariff for Black Hills Power related to improvements made to the company's jointly-owned Wyodak Power Plant to comply with the federal Regional Haze Rule. The approval allows the company to collect from South Dakota ratepayers an appropriate share of eligible costs related to the pollution controls.

  • Approved a transmission cost recovery tariff for Otter Tail Power Co. for the company's share of regional transmission investments. Staff and company representatives developed a cost allocation method that considers the jurisdiction that has created the need for transmission investment and the amount of investment that is appropriate to include in retail rates. This transmission rider is the first filing of its kind to analyze the rate impact of large regional transmission projects.

  • Approved the construction of a 10.6-mile 345kV transmission line in Brookings County. The line is part of CapX2020, a joint initiative of 11 transmission-owning utilities to expand transmission in the region. The application was submitted by Great River Energy and Xcel Energy.

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  • Monitored the transition as AT&T Mobility began to provide service to former Alltel Wireless customers. Staff was in frequent contact with AT&T officials throughout the process to advocate on behalf of South Dakota customers. Assisted dozens of consumers with questions related to service quality and billing.

  • Commissioner Kristie Fiegen participated in the State Policymaker Forum at the CTIA Enterprise and Applications conference, discussing the impact of state regulatory issues on wireless technologies.

  • Monitored the actions and results as new wireless telecommunications sites were launched by companies at several locations including in or near Aberdeen, Artesian, Blunt, Bridgewater, Burke, Camp Crook, Castlewood, Colman, Crow Creek, Dupree, Irene, Keystone, Lake Campbell, Milltown, Mitchell, Nemo, Pierre, Reva, Salem, Selby, Sheridan Lake, Sioux Falls, Sturgis, Wolsey and Yankton. Companies also made a number of technology enhancements on existing towers throughout the year.

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