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Hearings begin over NorthWestern Energy's rate increase

An electric meter on the side of a residential structure.
epantha/Getty Images/iStockphoto
An electric meter on the side of a residential structure.

Montana utility regulators are holding hearings this week to consider an increase to NorthWestern Energy customer fees.

The Montana Public Service Commission began the rate case Tuesday with comments from members of the public weighing in on NorthWestern’s fee increase — which the utility told commissioners would add roughly $8 to the average household’s monthly electric bill.

The current proposed increase is the result of a recent settlement between NorthWestern Energy and stakeholders like the Montana Consumer Counsel, which advocates for customers.

Roughly a dozen commenters spoke against the bump to fees, including Montana State University student Nicholas FitzMaurice.

“This rate increase is not affordable for Montanans," he said. "Nor is it necessary for providing reliable energy in the state."

Several commenters spoke in support of NorthWestern’s rate request, like Larry Wilbanks of Billings.

“NorthWestern Energy has absorbed the rising cost of labor, equipment and material while simultaneously investing in their infrastructure year after year to support the communities of Montana,” he said.

NorthWestern says the fee hike is necessary because of increasing prices, property taxes and the cost of buying power on the open market.

Hearings are scheduled through the remainder of the week with public comment at the beginning of each.

Several groups are organizing to attend the rate case proceedings Friday in protest of the increase, including Gallatin Valley Sunrise, Families for a Livable Climate, Mom’s Clean Air Force and the Montana Chapter of the Sierra Club.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.