Coal stockpiles at Whelan Energy Center Unit 2, pictured here in 2011, are at low levels.

EIA: Coal stocks at power plants are lower than recent years

By Laura D’Alessandro; APPA. This article originally appeared in the Nov. 7 issue of Public Power Daily.

Coal stocks at power plants are low in comparison to recent historical norms, the Energy Information Administration said in a Nov. 6 article.

“Coal stocks at electric power plants, which totaled 121 million tons at the end of August, are relatively low in both absolute and days of burn terms relative to recent historical norms. This is true both nationally and in the Upper Midwest,” EIA said.

The United States holds the largest recoverable reserves of coal in the world, but inventories are low at power plants not because of mining. In many cases, rail shipment is a bottlenecked, monopolistic option holding up the process, according to a recent article in Public Power magazine.

To address the ongoing challenge of rail deliveries, leaders of the American Public Power Association, Edison Electric Institute, National Rural Electric Association and other groups wrote a letter to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission on Oct. 31 urging commissioners to hold a public workshop on the issue.

About two thirds of coal used to generate electric power moves from mine to power plant at least partially by rail, EIA said. Weather-related problems last winter curtailed coal deliveries by rail and this year railroads have had to accommodate record grain harvests and increasing petroleum shipments. EIA said total U.S. rail traffic has increased for every commodity type tracked by the Association of American Railroads.

EIA noted that four very small plants in Minnesota have shut down to conserve coal stocks, but not because they ran out of coal. “Rather, grid operators have opted to dispatch other units during the fall shoulder season, when they have the option to dispatch non-coal units to conserve coal stocks for use during winter, the peak period for power demand in Minnesota and other states in the north of the country.”

In their letter to FERC, the association leaders noted that some utilities “have recently shut down generating units altogether in order to conserve coal and attempt to build up stockpiles for the winter. Such actions have imposed very substantial costs on the ratepayers, customers, members, and citizens of electric utilities.”

EIA said that there have also been reductions in operating levels at plants in several other states as a result of concerns about coal availability. Operators have substituted higher-cost power from other sources, such as natural gas-fired generation, to make up the difference. In addition, some power plants have increased their purchases of coal moved by truck to their power plants, at significantly higher cost compared to usual rail shipments.

Coal is forecast to continue to be the single largest source of electric generation through 2034, according to EIA data. But operating level reductions are currently being seen in several states as a result of concerns about coal availability. Operators are substituting higher-cost power from other sources such as natural gas to make up the difference, EIA said, while other plants have increased coal purchases by truck at significantly higher cost.


South Dakota’s 125th Anniversary

A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

On Nov. 2, 1889, at 2:40 p.m., President Benjamin Harrison signed South Dakota into statehood. Before signing the statehood proclamations for the two Dakotas, President Harrison instructed Secretary of State James Blaine to cover both proclamations under a sheet of paper. President Harrison signed both, and then shuffled them again so that no one, not even the President, knew which proclamation was signed first.

One hundred twenty-five years later, I can’t help but be proud of all we have accomplished.

Our farmers and ranchers survived the Dust Bowl, withstood blizzards, droughts and floods, and built an agricultural economy that is as strong as it has ever been.

This is the place where Gutzon Borglum and Korczak Ziolkowski found their stone canvases; where Laura Ingalls Wilder grew up in her “Little Town on the Prairie”; and where Kevin Costner let the world see the pride and culture of the Lakota people, against the backdrop of South Dakota’s breathtaking landscapes in “Dances with Wolves.”

This is the place where a well-digger named Peter Norbeck created one of the nation’s best state parks; where a quiet professor named George McGovern became a candidate for president and an advocate for the hungry; and where a high school dropout named Bill Janklow connected our schools to the Internet and made a university in Madison a leader in cybersecurity.

Our history is one of perseverance. In overcoming obstacles, we don’t merely survive; we prosper and achieve beyond anyone’s expectations. This is something country singer Kyle Evans understood when he composed a special tribute to our state twenty-five years ago. He wrote:

Where horses traveled dusty trails, fancy cars now drive on superhighways,
Where one-room cabins used to stand, modern high rise buildings line the skyways,
Where there once was just a mountain, today there are faces carved in stone,
And they represent the freedom of this South Dakota land we call home.

Let us never take for granted this lifestyle unequalled in this land,
Where a friend is still a true friend, always there to lend a helping hand,
Where religion is still our guideline and Old Glory will always be unfurled,
Where you’ll find old-fashioned values in a fast-moving modern day world.

As Mr. Evans perceived, our state has changed a lot since President Harrison signed that important document. But South Dakotans are still the same at heart – our values, work-ethic and neighborliness still remain. That’s what makes our state exceptional.

So let’s pause today to celebrate what we’ve already achieved; and tomorrow we’ll continue the trek forward in building upon what our forefathers began.

Happy birthday South Dakota!

PUC Chairman Hanson delivers address at national electric roundtable

Gary Hanson, chairman of the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission, was a speaker and panelist at the national Roundtable on Energy Resource Portfolios for the Electric Power Industry in Arlington, Va., earlier this month. At the invitation-only event industry leaders examined the future of the electric power industry, the growing demand for diverse energy portfolios and challenges, and how to solve those challenges.

A primary concern at the roundtable was how the electric power industry can ensure reliable, affordable, clean and safe energy while increasing renewable energy and distributed generation. Hanson presented a provocative formula of 15 ingredients necessary to accomplish a national energy policy.

“Facts must be allowed to overwhelm emotion, special interests and partisanship at both ends of the opinion spectrum,” Hanson explained upon presenting the formula. “This is a technically complicated task, yet we are a nation of sound bites, and reaching decisions require sincere dialogue, yet we are a nation of opposing sides,” he said.

Hanson also discussed how environmental regulations and renewable incentives impact portfolio decisions and public policy goals.

“The EPA’s proposed rule to cut carbon emissions is a tremendous challenge for the energy industry. The EPA has a responsibility to safeguard our waterways and air; however, some of the EPA’s recent proposed regulations provide insignificant environmental value but significantly increase costs to every citizen and business in the country,” he stated. “Additionally, some of the regulations create a Catch-22 that makes the producer violate one regulation by complying with another.”

The U.S. Department of Energy along with the American Public Power Association, the Edison Electric Institute and the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association hosted the event Oct. 16-17.

Hanson is in his second term on the Public Utilities Commission. He serves on the electricity committee of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and has held leadership positions in the Organization of MISO States and the National Wind Coordinating Collaborative.

mutual aid 1

New handbook from APPA aims to reinforce mutual aid network

By Jeannine Anderson, APPA; Originally appeared in the October 6 Public Power Daily

The American Public Power Association has developed a new handbook, called the Public Power Mutual Aid Playbook, to help municipal utilities in their efforts to prepare for, and recover from, severe storms and other disasters.

“Mutual aid represents the essence of public power — neighbors helping neighbors restore power as quickly and safely as possible in the aftermath of a disaster,” said APPA President and CEO Sue Kelly in a letter to APPA members. “We hope this playbook will bolster an already strong national network of mutual aid participants that stand ready to assist their fellow public power utilities.”

mutual aid 2Kelly encouraged utilities to review the playbook and keep it handy, and urged utilities that are not already part of APPA’s Mutual Aid Network to join by sending an email to APPA at or by visiting

The playbook is designed to help:

  • Improve communication among utilities and with network coordinators.
  • Ensure expeditious and organized response to requests for assistance.
  • Streamline support (e.g., housing, fuel, etc.) from the federal government in the event of a large-scale event.

“Severe storms are becoming more frequent, and the effect they have on our way of life is immense,” said Gary Nieborsky, vice chair of the APPA Mutual Aid Working Group and distribution engineering and operations manager of Central Lincoln People’s Utility District in Newport, Oregon. The playbook “enables utilities to make the best use of available resources to safely and efficiently respond to large-scale events,” he said.


South Dakota statehood celebration scheduled for November 1

A special event at the State Capitol to celebrate South Dakota’s 125th anniversary of statehood will feature a performance by the South Dakota Symphony Orchestra.

The event will also include the rededication and lighting ceremony for the newly restored stained glass in the Capitol. The project to restore the historic stained glass skylights that began last year is expected to be completed in September when the final restored panels will return to the Capitol.

The statehood celebration event will take place at 7 p.m. CDT on Saturday, Nov. 1.

The event will be open and free to the public. General admission seating will be available with a ticketed reservation. The details and availability date for reserving seating tickets will be made available in the future. Standing room only will be available on the marble grand staircase and in the balconies above the rotunda floor.

Other Events on Nov 1:

First Lady Inaugural Gown Exhibit Rededication
A rededication of the newly refurbished First Ladies Inaugural Gown exhibit is scheduled for 10:30 a.m. on the first floor. The event is free and open to the public.

Trail of Governors Statues Unveiling
The unveiling of the three latest statues of former governors by the Trail of Governors is scheduled for 1 p.m. in the rotunda. The event is free and open to the public.

Quilting Demonstration
The Stately Stitchers quilting club are hosting a quilting demonstration from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Lutheran Memorial Church.

The public is invited to help make quilted ornaments which will be used to decorate one of the Capitol Christmas Trees later that month. The theme of the Capital Christmas Trees is 125 Years of Christmas in South Dakota.