Home > SD 2014 Ballot, South Dakota > A chat with PUC Gary Hanson at the SD State Fair

A chat with PUC Gary Hanson at the SD State Fair

September 11, 2014
PUC Gary Hanson & State Treasurer Rich Sattgast taking Ice Bucket Challenge at SD State Fair. Photo by Ken Santema.

PUC Gary Hanson & State Treasurer Rich Sattgast taking Ice Bucket Challenge at SD State Fair. Photo by Ken Santema.

While covering the Gubernatorial and Senatorial debates at the SD State Fair I took an opportunity to speak with Republican Public Utilities Commissioner (PUC) Gary Hanson. Hanson is running for re-election in another six-year term. This spot of is one of three total PUC’s for South Dakota. One odd fact about the PUC position is that it isn’t subject to the two-term limit that other Constitutional offices must follow. Hanson first won his PUC seat in 2002, and was re-elected in 2008. If Hanson is re-elected again this year he will begin serving his 3rd term in 2015. His opposition in this race is Wayne Schmidt for the Constitution Party and David Allen for the Democrat Party. The Libertarian Party had a candidate with Ryan Gaddy, but he was not allowed on the ballot.

I first asked Hanson what his top priority would be if he is to be re-elected again. He had an answer similar to that of District 3 State Senator Al Novstrup by saying it would be hard to choose one top priority. He said as PUC there are “so many balls in the air at the same time”. But if pressed he would say the function of a PUC should be to push for “safe, affordable, and reliable electricity”. He feels as PUC he has worked well to keep electricity prices among the lowest in the US. He noted some states have fifty to seventy percent higher electric bills than what South Dakota currently has.

For a while we talked about renewable energies. Hanson is quite excited about the possibilities that come with renewable energies. He also said how proud he had been to represent all of the nations utility commissioners on the steering committee for the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative (NWCC). Hanson explained the NWCC is a non-partisan group with about thirty-five to forty members representing various organizations. He says in this group they examine all issues surrounding wind. From looking at the NWCC website I see it isn’t just about power generation, but there is also a focus on protecting the environment and especially on wildlife issues.

I asked Hanson why SD doesn’t seem to have a big focus on more wind power in SD (I hear this talking point from people all the time). Hanson said there is a challenge with wind in South Dakota that comes down to basic math. He said at peak times SD consumes about 2,200 MW of power. Currently the state has 3,800 MW of power capacity to provide from all power generation sources. If any new power generation stations were to be created in SD a new market must be found for that power. It would be possible to sell some of that power to other states. But transmission lines going to and through other states is very costly. The cost of bringing that power to other states would make it hard for South Dakota power generators to compete in other markets.  I know many would like to shut down the current coal-fired plants and replace them with wind, but that route doesn’t seem to be economically feasible for the companies that own the plants at this point. I forgot to ask Hanson about doing that, maybe I’ll catch up with him this fall and get his thoughts on replacing coal with wind.

The conversation then went back to his commitment to finding solutions involving renewables in general. Hanson said he is excited about renewables because “fossil fuels are finite”. He noted that once finite resources are consumed, they are gone forever. At the same time Hanson believes we should be good stewards of the land. Going on, Hanson said it “makes sense to responsibly transition to renewable energy”. He understands economically it would not be feasible to switch from fossil fuels to renewable energies overnight. But he wants to make sure a transition is happening now so his great-grandchildren’s generation won’t have to deal with dwindling fossil fuels providing energy. Hanson went through some statistics about how much coal, natural gas, and petroleum the US goes through each year. The numbers were staggering (so much so that I spilled coffee on my notes, and cannot read those staggering figures).

I wish more politicians from both parties would take Hanson’s approach to dealing with fossil fuels and renewables. He is not waging a war on fossil fuels (as many on the left would prefer). He seems to understand fossil fuels are currently necessary. But at the same time he does not seem to be beholden to fossil fuels (like many on the right appear to be). Instead Hanson sees the future of power in the US is renewable energy and has a goal to help get SD that direction. By taking this middle-of-the-road approach it allows Hanson to actually work towards the end goal of renewable energy without negatively impacting current energy production.

Sometime this fall I hope to speak with the other two PUC candidates on the ballot. In particular I will try to discover their thoughts on renewable energies and see how they stack up against Hanson. At this time thought, it is hard to see either challenger putting up much of a race against Hanson.

PS. While looking through my SD State Fair photos I found this video of the SD Republican candidates taking the Ice Bucket challenge. I completely forgot I had recorded this video. It was just something I did because I was there. The GOP recorded and posted it elsewhere, but I don’t think it will hurt to have two videos of the challenge out there.

  1. Stephanie Strong
    September 16, 2014 at 2:40 pm

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