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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: Wednesday, March 28, 2007  
CONTACT: Leah Mohr, South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, (605) 773-3201

    New laws protect South Dakota utility customers

PIERRE, S.D. – Two bills recently ushered through the 2007 Legislature by the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission further define the PUC's authority in sales and mergers of utility companies and the rates they charge the state's consumers.

The PUC drafted Senate Bill 25 to address current law that specifies the commission's authority over some, but not all, sales of a public utility and its major assets. The new law removes the discrepancies to provide more equal protection to South Dakota customers of affected utilities. Representatives of the state's investor-owned utilities, rural electric cooperatives and municipal utilities helped prepare the legislation.

"The proposed merger of NorthWestern Energy and Babcock & Brown Infrastructure illustrated the need for this legislative revision," said PUC Chairman Dusty Johnson. "Last year the commission determined we did not have authority over the transaction because of the way state law is written. It's important to note the PUC negotiated several strong ratepayer protection provisions with the companies. In the end, we were still left with a law that needed to be fixed in order for the PUC to have clear oversight over future deals of this type," he explained.

The other piece of legislation, Senate Bill 182, revises current statute to ensure South Dakota ratepayers will not face excessive utility rate increases to pay for regulatory mandates imposed in another state.

"Every investor-owned utility that currently does business in South Dakota also conducts business and is regulated in at least one other state," stated PUC Vice Chairman Gary Hanson. "As we monitored legislative action in other states, we became concerned about mandates imposed on a utility in another state that might impact South Dakota ratepayers. Senate Bill 182 is a safeguard, giving the commission specific authority to review a public utility's cost to ensure the rates are reasonable and necessary to provide service to South Dakotans," he said.

"Consumer protection and providing security for the future were the real drivers behind these two pieces of legislation," said Commissioner Steve Kolbeck. "We are fortunate in South Dakota to benefit from safe, reliable and affordable energy. It is also fortunate the companies and organizations providing our energy are well-managed and work hard to keep our rates reasonable. We are grateful the legislators agreed that as the utility industry and its companies change, rate payer protection should remain the top priority," he said.

Each bill passed the Senate and the House of Representatives with unanimous approval from the lawmakers. Signed by Gov. Mike Rounds in March, the legislation will become law on July 1, 2007.




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Cutline: South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioners Dusty Johnson, Steve Kolbeck and Gary Hanson join Gov. Mike Rounds as he signs legislation offering protection to South Dakota utility consumers