PUC considers natural gas farm tap dispute

Union County, SD Hundreds of people in rural South Dakota fear they may lose their natural gas service.

Right now the South Dakota Public Utilities Commission is hearing a disagreement between two companies, largely to determine which is responsible for providing natural gas to nearly 200 customers.

For decades, hundreds of rural South Dakota homes have been heated by natural gas all thanks to what’s known as a farm tap into a main natural gas line that was placed in South Dakota years ago.

“Farm taps happened in an easement years and years ago, probably in the 1950s, to bring transmission lines across the state of South Dakota,” South Dakota Public Utilities Commissioner Kristi Fiegen said.

Most homeowners near the tiny community of Nora have always used natural gas.

“Ever since I moved here in 1973,” Mike Pedersen said.

“I have been on the pipeline since I bought the acreage in November of 1989,” Allen Sveeggen said.

It’s an energy source these farmers and homeowners have depended on for decades.

“I heat the store with natural gas, I heat the house with natural gas,” Pedersen said.

But this November people in Nora received notice that their natural gas provider would no longer serve them at the end of next year.

“Northwestern Energy is providing a service to these customers on behalf of northern natural gas, we notified these customers that at the end of 2017 that contract will be up,” Northwestern Energy Spokesman

Northern Natural Gas owns the actual pipeline infrastructure, while another company, Northwestern Energy, actually owns the natural gas inside of it. Right now the two companies are at odds.

“We provide the farm tap, but it’s up to Northwestern Energy to continue to provide the natural gas. The farm tap is the actual hardware that Northern provided to the farmers during easements,” Northern Natural Gas Spokesperson Mike Loeffler said.

Right now the PUC is considering whether they have jurisdiction to decide this issue.

“If we do have jurisdiction over the utility, is it Northern Natural Gas or Northwestern Energy or both or neither,” Fiegen said.

The PUC will make their initial decision in January, but it will likely be a long road of legal battles before these rural customers know whether or not they'll have to replace natural gas with another form of energy.

“It’s matter of economics,” Sveeggen said. “I'd have to replace my gas water heater, gas furnace, gas dryer and my natural-gas space heater, all four of those items would have to be replaced with propane.”

“Ya, it’s going to cost us,” Pedersen said.
This whole process has been very confusing for property owners who are hearing conflicting information from both companies.

Northern Natural Gas is holding an informational meeting for land owners near Madison Thursday night at the AmericInn" from six to eight.

Another meeting will be held at the Super 8 in Beresford Friday morning starting at 10.