Olson appointed to APPA Board of Directors

National association dedicated to promoting and protecting public power

Russell Olson of Madison was recently appointed to serve on a national board of directors representing community-owned utilities nationwide.

Russell Olson

The American Public Power Association is the voice of not-for-profit, public power utilities that power 2,000 towns and cities across the United States.

Olson is the CEO of Heartland Consumers Power District, a non-profit, public power provider in Madison. Heartland provides wholesale power and energy to communities and state agencies throughout the Midwest.

“I am honored to be part of the APPA board, an organization designed to protect the interests of public power,” Olson said. “Throughout my career at Heartland, I have been involved in various APPA activities and events and am humbled to be part of their guiding force.”

Olson was nominated to the board by Tom Heller, president and CEO of Missouri River Energy Services in Sioux Falls. His nomination was also supported by state public power associations within the region.

Qualifications for serving on the board include experience working in public power, participating in APPA activities and/or those of state and regional associations and working knowledge of the problems and issues confronting the industry.

Olson has worked for Heartland 15 years, serving as CEO for seven.

He recently served as chair and spokesperson of the Coalition to Preserve Consumer Choice, an alliance of public power utilities formed to protect the rights of municipal electric utilities to serve in annexed areas.

“Russell’s leadership on legislative issues facing public power utilities has been invaluable in South Dakota,” said Heller.

Olson previously served in the South Dakota Legislature in both the House of Representatives and the Senate. He served as Senate Majority Leader before resigning from the Senate when he was named CEO of Heartland.

The American Public Power Association was formed in 1940 to represent publicly owned utilities throughout the nation. Their purpose is to promote public power, helping community-owned utilities deliver superior services through joint advocacy, education and collaboration.

The APPA board consists of 30 elected members from 10 regions, ensuring a geographic spread of members. Olson will represent Region 3 which consists of the states of Iowa, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota and South Dakota.

The board voted to confirm Olson’s nomination in early October. He fills a seat vacated by Troy Adams who departed Elk River Municipal Utilities in Minnesota earlier this year.

He will complete Adams’ term which ends in June of 2022. He will then be eligible to run for another three-year term.

SD House passes HB 1262

Bill to be heard in Senate Commerce and Energy

South Dakota House Bill 1262 was heard on the House floor Wednesday, February 26. Introduced by Representative David Anderson of Hudson and Senator Jack Kolbeck of Sioux Falls, the bill establishes a mandatory process and timeline before a municipality may annex property into its electric service territory.

After more than an hour of floor debate, the bill passed on a vote of 48 in favor and 20 opposed with two excused. After first reading in the Senate, it was assigned to the committee on Commerce and Energy.

It will be heard in committee Thursday, March 5 at 10:00 a.m. in Room 414 of the State Capitol.

South Dakota Public Power and the Coalition to Preserve Consumer Choice strongly oppose HB 1262, citing provisions that exacerbate government red tape and create uncertainty.

“This bill harms private property owners, hinders economic development, creates government bureaucracy and takes away a municipal electric utility’s right to grow,” said Heartland Director of Economic Development and Governmental Affairs Casey Crabtree.

HB 1262 stems from 2019 bill, summer study

HB 1262 is part of an on-going attempt by the state’s rural electric cooperatives to prevent municipal electric utilities from serving in annexed areas. Their first attempt was made during the 2019 Legislative Session when they introduced Senate Bill 66 which would have frozen electric service territory.

Ultimately, SB 66 was amended to establish an interim legislative committee to study issues related to electric services in an annexed area.

The nine-member committee met all day in Pierre on three separate occasions from June-November. After more than 20 hours of meetings, testimony from more than 50 witnesses and review of more than 300 presentation slides, the committee considered nine legislative drafts before concluding a territory freeze was not the solution.

Both municipal and rural electric providers expressed satisfaction with the study’s outcome and pledged to continuing working together towards a solution. Despite efforts, a formal agreement was never established prior to the 2020 legislative session.

“We have been more than willing to sit at the table and discuss reasonable agreements,” said Crabtree. “We will not give up the right to provide electricity within the growing boundaries of our communities, but are willing to negotiate terms around annexation.”

Coalition says bill is bad for South Dakota

Introduced in late January, HB 1262 gives cooperatives the ability to bring annexation issues to the courts, not only for compensation, but also the right to serve.

The Coalition says the bill:

  • Interferes with property owners’ rights
  • Creates a long, unnecessary drawn-out process
  • Effectively kills economic development by creating uncertainty surrounding the development
  • Incentivizes cooperatives to interfere with city functions

The group also says the bill ignores the recommendations put forth by the summer study committee.

Second electric summer study meeting in the books

From the Coalition to Preserve Consumer Choice:

The Electric Services in an Annexed Area Interim Legislative Committee met for the second time in late August. Much like the first meeting in July, our Public Power communities showed up in a big way to support our efforts!

The committee utilized all of the scheduled time beginning at 10 a.m., working through lunch and finishing at 4 p.m.

Representatives from our Coalition opened up the meeting with a comprehensive presentation focused on voluntary annexations that have taken place in public power communities and why the landowners asked to be municipal customers. The presentation will be available to be viewed and downloaded here.

The communities of Brookings and Vermillion were asked to present their system maps in the afternoon and did an excellent job showing how those cities have planned for future growth.

The public comment period also provided time for additional testimony from Heartland customers Aurora and Arlington. The mayors of both communities pointed out that a territory freeze would hinder growth in small towns where leaders are putting forth great effort and investment to help their communities succeed.

Everyone should be very proud of the great group of city employees and representatives for all of the hard work and dedication they have put forth thus far.

In addition, we want to thank all of the legislators on the interim committee. As we all know, this is a very complex issue and we appreciate the diligence and open-mindedness from everyone we’ve seen to date!

There will be at least one more meeting this fall with the date yet to be determined. Committee members expressed the desire for the next meeting to focus on possible solutions and potential legislation.  We’ll keep everyone informed as we move forward and thank you for your support thus far!

Featured image: Arlington Mayor Amiel Redfish provided public comment before the committee.

Municipal coalition shows support in Pierre

Inaugural interim meeting held for Electric Services in an Annexed Area

From the Coalition to Preserve Consumer Choice:

The Legislative Interim Committee met for the first time at the Capitol in Pierre, South Dakota July 25. Thanks to all the communities for making the trip to show support. There was a great turnout.

The meeting began with comments from the South Dakota Legislative Research Council (LRC). Alex from LRC discussed the histories of municipal and rural power and gave a short overview of how other states in our region govern similar issues.

Public Utilities Commissioner Chris Nelson discussed the evolution of the boundaries outlining service territory and the role of the PUC.

After a short break, representatives of the Rural Electric Association (REAs) presented their side, followed by our Coalition to Preserve Consumer Choice’s presentation, finishing with Investor Owned Utilities (IOUs).

Matt McCauley of Redstone Law Firm presented on behalf of the Coalition.

The end of the meeting held time for public comment where several people spoke in support of the municipal electrics. Committee members asked great questions of all parties and requested a large amount of information to be gathered and discussed at the next meeting.

Jameson Berreth, Volga, SD city administrator, provided public comment in opposition of Senate Bill 66, which is the origin of the summer study.

The Coalition laid out a compelling case, providing historical context along with many of the challenges and opportunities faced by municipal electric communities. The presentation is worth taking time to review and can be viewed and downloaded here.

Special thanks to our Coalition team for putting together a great overview and specifically Matt McCaulley with Redstone Law Firm for walking the committee through the information.

There’s a lot of work left to do and much preparation ahead as we prepare for the next meeting in Pierre, scheduled for August 28.

A large crowd attended the first interim meeting of the Electric Services in an Annexed Area committee.