AP NEWS

Montana regulator: Not publicizing rate hike was error

November 15, 2019

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — The head of Montana’s Public Service Commission says he didn’t intentionally hide from the public the panel’s approval of a $6.5 million rate hike for NorthWestern Energy customers.

The Billings Gazette reports Friday that chairman Brad Johnson said it was an error not to include the rate hike in a press release about an Oct. 30 commission meeting in which the decision was made.

A Nov. 1 news release gave a status update on the NorthWestern rate case, saying a deadline for the final order had been extended.

The rate hike is part of a settlement involving NorthWestern and several customer groups that intervened in the utility’s proposal to raise rates by $34.8 million a year.

The Gazette filed a public information request for details about the commission’s decision after Commissioner Roger Koopman of Bozeman contacted the newspaper to see if an official announcement had been made.

In discussing the Nov. 1 statement on Wednesday, Johnson called the Oct. 30 decision an “interim step” in a larger settlement.

“I thought we addressed it the way that was appropriate at the time,” Johnson said. “Like I say, knowing what I know today I would have put another sentence in there talking about the $6.5 million.”

Another issue to be discussed is how the utility will bill customers with rooftop solar panels who at times buy power and at other times sell surplus power to the utility.

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This story has been corrected to show the rate increase was not announced on Nov. 1.

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Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com