HB 78 requires for-profit utilities (i.e. NorthWestern Energy and Montana Dakota Utilities) to hold at least two public meetings as part of their long-term resource planning processes.
One of the primary goals of the long-term planning process is to protect consumers from bad investments by the utility. By regularly looking into the future and making a plan for how to meet our energy needs, the long-term plan helps avoid building or buying power plant resources that consumers don’t need. The long-term plans are made better, and thus consumers are more protected, by having experts and others from outside the company participate in the plan’s creation. These non-utility employees help as a check on the utility creating a self-serving plan that would be more geared toward increasing company revenue than the best outcomes for consumers.
HB 78 is a step forward for transparency and consumer protection. Having at least two public planning meetings allows more experts to provide perspective and feedback to the utility that it might not otherwise have access to or consider. All other major utilities in the northwest hold planning meetings that are open for anyone to attend (see table below). Currently, NorthWestern’s planning meetings are not open meetings. They are invite-only meetings where the utility controls the invitation. HB 78 takes us in the right direction for transparency, consumer protection, and bringing us in line with the industry standard of having open planning meetings.
HB 78 was approved unanimously by ETIC.