By Anne Hedges, Billings Gazette
Skyrocketing property taxes, elimination of constitutional rights, defunding public education, massive corporate tax breaks, all created stiff competition for top billing on Santa’s 2023 naughty list. Despite a year full of bad behavior, one bad actor stands head and shoulders above the rest in Montana: NorthWestern Energy.
Topping the list of naughty behavior was NorthWestern’s manipulation of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) into approving an historic rate hike. While Montanans struggle to keep up with inflation and pay bills, NorthWestern struck a deal with just a few of the many entities who protested its record-breaking electric rate hike. The deal hung Montana ratepayers out to dry in freezing temperatures. The PSC commissioners (mistakenly) complained that they didn’t have authority to reject the deal and so approved a permanent increase of a whopping 28% for residential electric rates. Utility commissions in Wyoming and New Mexico just rejected similar large rate hikes proposed by their utilities, but in Montana, NorthWestern hoodwinked the PSC into charging small increases for large industrial customers like refineries (while oil companies experience historic profits) while saddling homeowners and small businesses with unprecedented rate increases.