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Public Utilities Commissioner

The Public Utilities Commission shall be comprised of three commissioners. Each commissioner shall be elected from, and represent, the state at large. At each general election there shall be elected one Public Utilities Commissioner having the qualifications prescribed by law. To serve and protect the public by ensuring safe, reliable, and high quality utility services at rates reflecting either a competitive market in areas where competition develops, or fair regulation in areas where competition does not exist; to keep the public informed so they can make wise choices; to promote their interests through public policy; to resolve disputes between customers and their utilities and between competing utilities; to regulate electric, natural gas, telecommunications companies, grain warehouses, grain dealers, public storage warehouses, intrastate pipeline safety, and excavation activities; and, to represent the state at large.Term: 6 yearsSalary: $96,956Requirements for office: 25 years old, 2 years residency, qualified voter of the state, no conflict of interest

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    Remi W.B. Bald Eagle

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    Gary Hanson

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    Devin Saxon

Biographical Information

What are your thoughts on the use of renewable forms of energy such as wind and solar in our state?

What changes, if any, would you like to see to the natural gas pipeline safety program?

How would you increase wireless telecommunications networks in our state?

How would you ensure that utility companies in South Dakota provide safe and reliable service and that investor-owned companies do so with just and reasonable rates?

I believe that renewable, sustainable and clean forms of energy should be our first option in choosing energy solutions. It is crucial to acknowledge the changes to our environment caused by the technologies and methods of energy currently in use and focus on energy production consistent with keeping an environment that enables future generations to succeed.
Changes to the current pipeline safety programs I would like to see are higher standards for leak detection and more robust remediation programs. I would also like to see every stakeholder to have a proactive ability to participate in the requirements for pipeline safety in their respective jurisdictions and that landowners or competent jurisdiction be allowed legal or professional representation at cost to the pipeline carrier. These are regulations that go above and beyond the federal requirements or pipeline safety and are allowed by federal law but exercised by the state to protect landowners and municipalities.
Wireless telecommunications are essential in our state and wireless technologies are becoming increasingly more stable, reliable and cost effective to cover more vast regions. South Dakota would be better served by ensuring wireless companies thrive and compete to provide the lowest rates to the consumer. In order to effectively know what that means in the future we must ensure that we are monitoring the effective use of current spectrum to allow the maximum use to providers and growing those provider networks. In other words, we must have the spectrum available for a competitive market in South Dakota. This is the primary non-market resource to encourage network build outs. While the PUC does not regulate this industry we can educate and advocate. Recently, tribal nation have been afforded licensing of the 2.4 GHz spectrum which would allow more market opportunities should tribal nations capitalize on the availability. When tribes succeed, we succeed.
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Renewable energy is a must! Fossil fuels are finite. They release dozens of elements and compounds into the air and they are gone forever after they are burned; those are two good reasons why we should responsibly transition to renewable energy. This should not be a political issue. It is simply the wise thing to do. Of course, base load electricity is essential; so, until safe and affordable renewable energy can be constantly and universally provided, we should miserly use the fossil fuels that we absolutely need to use. We should include opportunity for development of all renewables. There is always strong potential for technological advances. The cost of renewables has decreased dramatically. The decreasing cost of energy storage is an exciting opportunity that will dramatically change the reliability, competitiveness, and growth of renewable energy. People would be surprised to know that 65% of electric capacity in our state is renewable energy.
The Federal Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Administration, PHMSA, has extremely strict regulations and it is the PUC's responsibility to properly regulate pipelines under their authority. We are held accountable if we do not fulfill that responsibility. We have continually received the highest marks for properly regulating pipelines. The PUC has siting authority for intrastate but not interstate pipelines. I would like the state to have more specific requirements for siting petroleum pipelines. I voted against the Dakota access pipeline because I felt they; abused our citizens by bringing 50 law suits against our citizens prior to even obtaining a permit to build the project yet they claimed that law suits would only be used as a last resort; they obstructed Ag businesses and small communities unnecessarily; and their own expert witness’s testimonies were conflicted. There should also be a more stringent requirement for the strength of the pipe.
The PUC does not regulate wireless communications; the FCC does, so the PUC cannot require carriers to build cell towers or other infrastructure. However, we want the best communication services for our citizens. While I have been a PUC commissioner, instead of acting as regulatory bureaucrats, we have worked with citizens, carriers, Governors, Congress, FCC, and national regulatory associations to fund the building of communication infrastructure; several hundred million dollars in the last few years alone! This provides the opportunity and responsibility for carriers to build infrastructure and it helps keep customers costs lower as well. In spite of our minimal authority our working relationships have helped construct thousands of antennas and install hundreds of miles of fiber in our state and made incredible progress in the expansion of communication systems. We have more to do but our state's rural build out is among the top in the nation.
As Chairman of the PUC I review three indices to track the average duration and number of times that customers’ services are interrupted. Rate dockets are complex, highly technical, and require cautious examination. Approximately 95 percent of my time is consumed by reading and examining dockets. Rates need to be as responsible as possible yet utilities must have enough funds to provide safe and reliable services. As President of MARC, an organization of commissioners from 14 states, and as South Dakota’s representative to OMS, an organization of states that recommend operational procedures for the distribution of electricity in the Midwest, I am able to favorably influence the reliability and cost of our utilities. I do not allow other states’ political positions on energy to affect our rates. South Dakota’s electric rates are considerably below the national average and our service is more reliable. I have testified numerous times against legislation that would increase rates.
One burden hampering the development of more solar projects are the needless regulations and conditions put on even building them. 37 conditions needed to be met on top of a $300,000 filing fee to build South Dakota’s first solar conversion facility and I think that could be cut down considerably to increase the expediency of clean energy development projects. Other factors hampering free energy are the quasi-draconian fees being threatened upon wind farms. NextEra for instance was facing a financial penalty amounting to $75,000 a day for being behind on updating their wind turbine blades with low noise attachments, an upgrade they couldn’t complete in time and in a safe manner due to cold weather conditions. I think fines such as these sends a poor message to anybody who would seek to develop clean energy in South Dakota--that they’d have to deal with the heavy hand of our Public Utilities Commission and that is a huge discouragement and sends a bad message that needs to be alleviated
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I’m encouraged by the recent news and innovations from the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe who have found a cost effective solution to their internet needs by building their own high speed wireless internet network across the 207 square mile Lower Brule Reservation using digital radio waves, similar to how cell phones communicate with one another. They’re in partnership with the silicon valley non-profit organization MuralNet, and this project, the first of its kind in South Dakota, has a very reasonable cost of $250,000 to build and will only cost the community $15,000 to operate annually. I am also optimistic with the news coming out of SpaceX and their Starlink program negating the need to lay down cables for high speed internet in rural areas altogether. SpaceX as you know is lead by Elon Musk, has said that there will eventually be as many as 42,000 Starlink Satellites over the planet, providing high speed internet to people on the ground, especially in hard to reach rural areas.
Candidate has not yet responded.