By Keila Szpaller, Daily Montana & Missoula Current
(Daily Montanan) It’s no wonder that people talk about the 1997 energy deregulation debacle in Montana in the same breath as Senate Bill 379.
This bill landed later in the session, just like the one more than 20 years ago pushed by then-Sen. Fred Thomas of Stevensville. Like that bill, it comes with a hope that Montana customers can keep flipping on their lights without worrying too much about the cost of electricity.
But deregulation bamboozled Montanans; at least it did the majority of lawmakers. The bill didn’t drive promised competition and lower rates in the Treasure State. Instead, owners parted out Montana Power Co. like an old truck.
Rates climbed. Montana consumers who paid $310 million before deregulation were slated to pay $492 million in 2002, an extra $200 for every person in the state, according to a University of Montana dissertation on deregulation (the fiasco inspired more than one thesis).