On March 18, 1930, voters in Rapid City denied a franchise for the Dakota Power Company, which would later become the Black Hills Power and Light Company. Frustrated by poor service and rising rates, many citizens wanted the City to take over the business and run it as a public utility. Dakota Power Company's situation was exacerbated when its parent company, Florida-based Community Power and Light, refused to invest in new infrastructure without a franchise from the City. To solve these problems, Community Power and Light had dispatched Ben French to Rapid City to turn the situation around. Despite efforts to improve public relations and decrease costs for consumers, 1,600 Rapid City voters chose not to approve the franchise, while just half as many voted in favor of the franchise.
Rapid Citians continued to vote against several additional attempts by the company to secure a franchise. After several failed attempts, Dakota Power Company did not attempt another franchise election until 1937. After offering educational programs to the public as well as networking with city business and civic leaders, French was finally able to secure a city franchise. Although opponents of the franchise had sought to convince voters the company would raise rates if a franchise was awarded, the voters of Rapid City voted nearly three to one in favor.
To learn more about the history of Black Hills Corporation, visit the Black Hills Knowledge Network’s online digital archives.