David Allen wants to replace Gary Hanson on the Public Utilities Commission. The Yankton electrical contractor expresses a healthy concern about corporate power in government and wants to focus on protecting South Dakotans' pocketbooks.
Allen, a Democrat, has run for office before in an unsuccessful bid for District 18 Senate in 2012 against incumbent Republican Senator Jean Hunhoff. Even though he lost that race 65–35, the concerns he heard from numerous constituents about simply making ends meet convinced him to stick with public service. Allen chose the PUC race this year because he sees a chance in that office to do immediate good for families and serve as a buffer against corporate power.
One example of the corporate power Allen would fight is TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline. The PUC approved construction of that pipeline in 2010; that permit has lapsed, and the PUC that Allen would join must rehear and reapprove the Canadian company's proposal to lay pipe kittywampus across West River.
Allen strongly opposes Keystone XL, in large part because of eminent domain. Allen says it is "absolutely wrong" that South Dakota allows a foreign corporation to exercise eminent domain on our soil. He worries that the tar sands oil ("dilbit," as it is sometimes called) is highly corrosive and makes leaks inevitable. (A 2011 Alberta government study says chemistry doesn't make the oil more corrosive; more corrosion may come from the higher temperature and pressure needed to make the dilbit flow.) Allen notes that folks in British Columbia have rejected a tar sands pipeline*; he argues that we shouldn't host all the risks of Keystone XL "just because we are easily whored out," especially when Keystone XL would carry oil straight to the global export market and add not one drop for U.S. consumption.
Renewable Energy Big and Small
Allen would rather focus on developing more green energy. Pipeline jobs are temporary; renewable energy jobs, says Allen, offer more permanent economic gains. Demand will grow, meaning ongoing job opportunities for installing solar panels and wind turbines. Our vo-techs could both promote and capitalize on green energy by offering more training programs in the field and attracting more students. Allen thus sees renewable energy as a way to renew the youth population, offering them both practical education programs and good job opportunities.
Allen wants to see more small-scale energy production. He favors net metering, allowing homeowners to sell surplus power from their home energy generation back to their co-ops and utility companies. Allen recognizes that utilities need to charge a basic access cost to maintain the grid that transports homeowners' excess power and keeps them juiced on dark, windless nights, but he says homeowner power lessens the burden on the electrical grid and ultimately lowers costs for utilities.
*TransCanada can't go west, but maybe they'll throw a Hail Mary east! Bloomberg reports the Energy East pipeline proposal could take the tar sands 2,858 miles east to New Brunswick and make Keystone XL unnecessary.
Phones, Seeds, and Sioux Falls
Allen commented on an array of other issues during our conversation Monday. He says we should keep encouraging tower construction to reduce our cell phone dead zones. He'd like to see directories start including cell phone numbers. If the idea of increased publication of your cell phone number alarms you, note that Allen would also like to put more teeth in our do-not-call lists.
The fallout from the Anderson Seeds collapse still weighs on Allen's mind. He doesn't think the PUC and Legislature have taken enough action to protect farmers from getting stiffed by failing grain warehouses. Allen says he wants higher bonds to protect those farmer-investors. Likening the failure of Anderson Seeds to the bankruptcy of Northern Beef Packers and problems with South Dakota's EB-5 program, Allen says the PUC needs to offer more checks on power and oversight to protect South Dakotans from shaky and shady businesses.
Allen says his incumbent opponent, Commissioner Gary Hanson, leans a bit too much in favor of corporations. But Allen also throws the Sioux Falls flag on Hanson. He's uneasy with two-thirds of the PUC coming from Sioux Falls and thinks South Dakotans would be better served by diversifying the geography of the PUC members with some Yankton blood.
Voters have through November 4 to choose among Allen, Hanson, and the very quiet Constitution Party candidate Wayne Schmidt from Mobridge.