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

2013 Highlights

Chairperson Gary Hanson
Vice Chairperson Chris Nelson
Commissioner Kristie Fiegen

Grain Warehouse
Natural Gas
Public Outreach and Consumer Assistance
Renewable Energy


  • Deemed 39 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 2014. The Universal Service Administration Co. estimates companies invested more than $68.7 million in USF monies in South Dakota in 2012. 
  • Collected, certified and submitted study area boundary information of incumbent local exchange carriers to the Federal Communications Commission to use in the implementation of certain universal service reforms. Effort was supported by affected carriers and the South Dakota Telecommunications Association.
  • Commissioner Nelson penned an editorial, "When the Telephone Doesn't Work," to illustrate rural call completion issues experienced by many telephone customers in the state that was printed in several state publications. Nelson was selected to participate in a roundtable discussion hosted by U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson to speak about the issue and the PUC's efforts to bring national attention and encourage federal solutions to the myriad challenges of the rural call completion problem.


  • Compiled the annual South Dakota Renewable, Recycled and Conserved Energy Objective report and submitted it to the state Legislature. Companies continue to invest in renewables and energy efficiency and many are on track to meet or exceed the voluntary objective of 10 percent renewable and conserved energy by 2015.
  • PUC staff member Brian Rounds was elected to serve as president of the M-RETS board of directors. M-RETS is a regional renewable energy tracking system designed to help participants meet their renewable energy standards and objectives.
  • Completed a lengthy and complex docket involving a complaint brought in 2011 by a small-wind producer, certified as a qualifying facility wind developer, against an electric utility company regarding a power purchase agreement. The commission outlined the payment structure to be used for NorthWestern Energy to purchase power created by Oak Tree Energy and ordered the entities to develop an agreement. As a result of the case, the commission opened a docket to seek input regarding possible development of rules for avoided cost determinations of qualified facilities.


  • Shepherded the passage of legislation to provide the PUC better tools for evaluating the financial soundness of grain buyers and warehouses. Provisions that strengthened the PUC's oversight:
    • Requirements to provide the PUC with current financial information under penalty of perjury
    • Providing the PUC quick access to financial information that is located out of state
    • Requirements for grain buyers and warehouses who fall out of financial compliance to report immediately to the PUC or face criminal penalties
    • Specifying that the PUC must be allowed to conduct inspections of records and facilities; denial of access may result in license suspension
    • Adjusting bond requirements with increases for some grain buyers
  • Issued licenses to 186 entities with 320 locations and performed 392 on-site inspections at 263 licensed facilities.
  • Issued a notice to grain sellers and grain buyers that all grain purchases more than 30 days old will be considered cash sales that must be paid pursuant to SDCL 49-45-10 unless the grain buyer has in its possession a voluntary credit sale (VCS) contract signed by both parties. The PUC determined the notice was necessary as a result of a ruling by 5th Circuit Court Judge Portra.
  • After inspections revealed working capital deficiencies at Gregory Farmers Elevator Co., PUC staff worked with the board, management and a local bank to correct the company's working capital issues. When it became apparent they would not be able to raise the working capital necessary to continue as a going concern, the commission suspended then revoked the GFEC licenses. With authorization from the company, PUC staff, the board of directors, and the secured creditor, which was a local bank, worked together to receive and review bids and negotiate offers for the purchase of GFEC assets. Interstate Commodities Inc. purchased the facility and received the appropriate licenses from the PUC. There were no claims for unpaid grain as a result of the GFEC insolvency.
  • Distributed $100,166.78 (interest included) in proceeds to 29 claimants with allowed claims against the Anderson Seed Co. grain buyer bond. Bond was received by the PUC in 2012 following the failure of Anderson Seed Co. to perform its financial obligations to its grain suppliers.
  • Adopted and amended a number of grain buyer and grain warehouse rules. These recognize contracts signed by only one party as meeting the "in writing" language of SDCL 49-45-11 if such contract is provided to the other party unless the contract is objected to in writing within two days after receipt. These also reflect updated citations and changes in statute.
  • Commissioners spoke to several agricultural organizations and interest groups throughout the year including Northeast South Dakota Elevator Managers Association (Fiegen), Gregory Farmer's Elevator Co. (Nelson), South Dakota Grain and Feed Association (Nelson) and South Dakota Farmers Union (Nelson).


  • Requested an update, via SB 12, to an existing statute to clarify that certain modifications to energy facilities are subject to the PUC's permitting process. The revision received significant support and was passed.
  • Refer to "Grain Warehouse" section for summary of the PUC's legislation, HB 1017.


  • Granted the release of construction bonds for the Deer Creek Station natural-gas combined cycle electric generation facility, which is operational in eastern South Dakota.
  • Negotiated with Black Hills Power to reduce the amount of the company's requested rate increase by $5 million in annual revenues. The approved settlement agreement allowed the company to gain $8.8 million in annual revenue, or an increase of 6.39 percent. The company sought to raise electric rates 9.94 percent to generate an additional $13.7 million in annual revenue.
  • Allowed Black Hills Power to phase in a rate increase associated with the company's share of construction financing costs of the Cheyenne Prairie Generating Station, a natural gas-fired facility being built near Cheyenne, Wyo.
  • Monitored outages related to an April ice storm that impacted southeastern South Dakota. Kept in close contact with investor-owned utilities and responded to consumer service inquiries. Hosted a forum in Sioux Falls in July at which representatives of Xcel Energy, Sioux Valley Energy and Southeastern Electric Co-op discussed their organizations' recovery efforts to restore service to more than 91,000 electric customers, collectively.
  • Allowed Xcel Energy a 6.86 percent increase in base rates, plus a 2.2 percent increase associated with a new infrastructure rider. The overall increase for customers in 2013 is approximately 9.06 percent, less than the 11.53 percent the company initially sought.
  • Monitored outages related to an October blizzard, known as Winter Storm Atlas, which impacted the Black Hills and other portions of western South Dakota. Kept in close contact with Black Hills Power and telephone providers and responded to consumer service inquiries. At the height of the event, Black Hills Power reported more than 41,000 meters out of power.
  • Approved the continuation of a transmission cost recovery tariff for Xcel Energy for the company's share of eight additional local and regional transmission projects. The approved docket follows the cost allocation method developed the previous year that considers the jurisdiction that has created the need for regional transmission investment and the amount of investment that is appropriate to include in retail rates.
  • Hosted a public input hearing in Brookings for a 43-mile 345kV transmission line proposed to be constructed by Xcel Energy and Otter Tail Power Co. in Brookings and Deuel counties. Known as the Big Stone South-Brookings County project, the line has multi-value project (MVP) status from MISO, identifying it as providing regional reliability, economic value and supporting renewable energy.
  • Held public input hearings in Aberdeen and Milbank for the proposed Big Stone South-Ellendale 345kV transmission line to be constructed by Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. and Otter Tail Power Co. to follow a 160-mile route through Brown, Day and Grant counties. MISO has designated the line as a multi-value project (MVP) (see above definition).
  • Processed 10 electric service territory boundary agreements to verify electric territory mapping data for conversion to electronic format and use in a Geographic Information System database.

  • Continued working with counterparts from other states on the Eastern Interconnect States' Planning Council/State Provincial Steering Committee to strategize regional transmission planning and cost allocation efforts.
  • As part of the Western Interconnection Regional Advisory Body, continued to provide advice to the Western Electricity Coordinating Council, North American Electric Reliability Corporation and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission about electric reliability issues.
  • Approved the continuation of a transmission cost recovery tariff for Otter Tail Power Co. for the company's share of transmission projects. One additional regional transmission project was approved for recovery through the TCR rider, following the cost allocation method previously developed that considers the jurisdiction that has created the need for regional transmission investment and the amount of investment that is appropriate to include in retail rates.
  • Submitted comments to the Environmental Protection Agency opposing the EPA's proposal to partially disapprove the State of Wyoming's State Implementation Plan. The issue is of interest to the PUC because it affects Laramie River Station, a coal-fired power plant in Wyoming, from which electricity is sent to Heartland Consumers Power District and Missouri River Energy Services, wholesale public power utilities serving South Dakota. The PUC urged the EPA to allow the state to determine the most effective method for addressing regional haze. The cost of adding and maintaining emission controls at power plants generally affects ratepayers.


  • Assisted consumers on more than 1,850 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 and Huron. Commissioners and staff met with more than 3,300 consumers to answer questions about utility issues and promote the Call Before You Dig program, energy efficiency, Lifeline telephone assistance program and the Do Not Call registry. 
  • Helped to increase the amount of South Dakota telephone numbers on Do Not Call registry to 617,047.

  • 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


  • Approved an agreement to allow Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. to revise rates for natural gas service to generate nearly $900,000 in additional annual revenue, lower than the $1.5 million the company requested. Also approved the consolidation of the company's two South Dakota service and rate areas, known as the Black Hills area and the East River area, into one.
  • Commissioner Kristie Fiegen was selected to serve on the Gas Technology Institute's Public Interest Advisory Committee, which provides public and gas consumer interest guidance to GTI. The PIAC is made up of public utility commissioners, consumer advocates, and environmental, economic, and university-based experts from across the United States.


  • Monitored the actions and results as new wireless telecommunications sites were launched by companies at several locations including in or near Aberdeen, Hartford, Kadoka, Lake Byron, Lake Campbell, Lead, North Sioux City, Rapid City, Sioux Falls and Springfield. Companies also made a number of technology enhancements on existing towers throughout the year.
  • Commissioner Kristie Fiegen participated in the Wireless Industry Policymaker Forum at CTIA Wireless 2013, discussing the roles of wireless telecommunications from a state perspective.

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