EPA’s proposed Clean Power Plan wrong for South Dakota, PUC says

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s proposed plan to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants will have harmful results on the reliability and affordability of electricity in South Dakota if implemented as it is currently written, warned the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission. The PUC responded to the EPA’s call for comments to its Clean Power Plan by thoroughly analyzing the proposal, discussing effects with South Dakota stakeholders and submitting extensive written comments to the federal agency this month. Those comments can be read on the PUC’s website at www.PUC.SD.gov/energy/111dcomments.aspx

In mid-June of this year the EPA rolled out its proposed rule to regulate carbon emissions from existing power plants under the Clean Air Act §111(d). The agency initially opened a comment period until mid-October for the myriad parties that would be affected by the complex rule to share their concerns. The EPA extended the comment period to Dec. 1, after receiving feedback from numerous parties about the compressed timeline. The EPA expects to finalize the rule by June 1, 2015. States will be required to submit their plans on how to comply with the rule by June 30, 2016. The South Dakota Department of Environment and Natural Resources will be responsible for compiling and filing the state plan with the EPA.

In its proposed rule, the EPA specifies carbon reduction goals for the state that are based on national or regional averages with no consideration for the production and dispatch of energy in South Dakota that crosses state boundaries. The existing power plants in South Dakota targeted by the EPA’s proposal are the Big Stone Plant, a coal-fired plant near Milbank jointly operated by Otter Tail Power Co., NorthWestern Energy and Montana-Dakota Utilities Co.; and Deer Creek Station, a natural gas combined cycle plant near Elkton owned by Basin Electric Power Cooperative. The EPA’s proposal does not give credit for carbon-free electricity generated by hydropower plants located along the Missouri River in South Dakota.

PUC Commissioners Gary Hanson, Chris Nelson and Kristie Fiegen are unified in their opposition to the EPA’s proposed plan and in supporting the comments the PUC has filed. Paramount among their concerns are the proposal’s use of flawed assumptions and suggestions of carbon emission reductions that are not technically feasible, resulting in dramatic increases in the cost of electricity to consumers and a reckless disregard for electric reliability.

The PUC’s written comments focus on four primary elements: educating the EPA about South Dakota’s electric industry; identifying concerns with EPA’s short compliance timeline; identifying technical issues with the building blocks EPA has specified for states to use to comply with the Clean Power Plan; and providing economic impacts forecasted for South Dakota.

“The EPA’s proposal will be destructive to our economy,” said PUC Chairman Hanson. “I agree that environmental prudence should be part of national energy policy. I also firmly believe that energy must be affordable and reliable. I am frustrated that the EPA’s plan obviously bypasses essential facts about South Dakota’s reality. If the plan is unchanged, our state’s consumers will pay dearly,” he concluded.

“I believe the comments the PUC submitted to the EPA do a great job of stating why the EPA’s proposal is unrealistic and unattainable for South Dakota without significant cost,” stated PUC Vice Chairman Nelson. “This plan concerns me to the core and the PUC will continue to do all that we can to moderate its impact to South Dakota consumers, farmers and business people,” Nelson said.

“South Dakota is known for its common sense approach to challenges and changes,” commented Commissioner Fiegen. “Unfortunately, the EPA doesn’t place common sense very high on its priority scale, as reflected in this proposed plan. It is important that South Dakota energy consumers know that the PUC will continue to dig our heels in and advocate for rational and reasonable solutions on their behalf,” she said.

The PUC hosted a forum in July 2014 to discuss the proposed Clean Power Plan with representatives of South Dakota’s electric industry, the EPA and the state’s congressional delegation. Access presentations and recordings of the forum at www.PUC.SD.gov/energy/111dcomments.aspx

Photo Diary: Infrared Workshop at HCPD

Earlier this week, The Snell Group conducted a two-day infrared (IR) camera workshop at Heartland’s headquarters. Heartland, Western Area Power Administration and Clean Energy Ambassadors sponsored the event, titled “Infrared Inspection for System Maintenance and Energy Audits.”

Workshop activities included an in-depth look at IR cameras, including comparing different makes, models and software. Participants also discovered techniques for getting the most information from IR inspections while sharpening their audit skills. Nineteen people participated in the class, including Andy Studer, utility manager for the city of Aurora, South Dakota, a Heartland customer.

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SD Public Utilities Commissioner Kristie Fiegen stopped by Heartland and visited with some of the workshop participants.

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Aurora Utility Manager Andy Studer works with an infrared camera during the two-day workshop.

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Matt Schwoegler, instructor and consultant for The Snell Group, led the workshop.

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Fiegen is sworn in as South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner

Yesterday, Kristie Fiegen took the oath of office to become a South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner. The formal ceremony was held at the State Capitol in Pierre with Judge Lori Wilbur administering the oath.

Fiegen was appointed by Gov. Dennis Daugaard to fill a vacancy on the commission. Her term extends through 2012. The vacancy on the commission filled by Fiegen was created when Commissioner Steve Kolbeck resigned in June, before the completion of his term, to take a job in the private sector.

Fiegen comes to the PUC with 17 years of leadership experience as the president of Junior Achievement of South Dakota. Her public service career includes four terms in the South Dakota House of Representatives, from 1993 to 2001.

“This is an amazing opportunity that I accept with sincerity and purpose,” Fiegen stated. “I am honored to be serving South Dakota in this role and look forward to helping strengthen our state’s utility infrastructure and maintain safe, reliable and affordable utilities for our citizens,” she said.

Fiegen joins Chairman Gary Hanson and Vice Chairman Chris Nelson on the commission.

“Kristie is an energetic and articulate person,” Hanson remarked. “Her administrative experience at Junior Achievement and her legislative experience will serve her well as a public utilities commissioner.”

Nelson agreed with Hanson’s assessment. “I have known Kristie for a number of years and am confident she will handle the responsibilities of a PUC commissioner with intelligence and integrity,” he said. “I’m pleased she has joined the commission.”

Fiegen grew up on her family’s farm near Chancellor, S.D. She earned a bachelor’s degree in commercial economics and agricultural business from South Dakota State University and a master’s degree in business administration from the University of South Dakota. Fiegen and her husband, Tim, live in Sioux Falls with their sons, Alexander and Jackson.

Visit the PUC’s Web site at www.puc.sd.gov for more information about the agency and its commissioners.