By Anne Hedges
As reported in the last issue of Down to Earth, NorthWestern Energy is asking the Montana Public Service Commission to allow it to increase residential electricity rates by 25% and gas rates by 11%. Combined, residential customers would have to pay a whopping $364 more annually.
MEIC is concerned that the enormous rate increase is just a backdoor way for NorthWestern to charge its customers for its expensive methane gas plant near Laurel before the plant gets built. This action is functionally the same as something known as “pre-approval,” which a state district court judge ruled unconstitutional in May. Using novel wordsmithing, NorthWestern has changed the name of “pre-approval” to “reliability rider” in the hopes that it can hoodwink the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) into allowing it to charge customers hundreds of millions of dollars for the plant before the PSC determines whether such a plant is necessary and in the public interest.
Time will tell whether the PSC will let NorthWestern get away with this deception. All parties in the case (including MEIC) must file expert reports by December 19, detailing why NorthWestern’s math, assumptions and charges are incorrect. For energy geeks, you can count on a lot of interesting reading material over the holidays.
The PSC hearing on the rate increase will begin on April 10, 2023. Until then, those of us concerned about the exceptionally high rate hike will make an enormous effort to get the utility to cough up information detailing why the increase is necessary. Earthjustice is representing MEIC in the case.
This article was published in the Dec. 2022 issue of Down To Earth.