Montana Public Service Commission To Consider Hearings Examiner

May 26, 2020

The commission that regulates electricity utilities in Montana will seek public input on how it will implement a bill provision that allows utilities and developers to ask for a third party to oversee the hearing on their cases.

The Montana Public Service Commission at its May 26 meeting unanimously voted to solicit public comment on how it will follow through on a bill that will allow PSC applicants to request a type of governmental referee called a hearings examiner. The bill becomes effective Jul. 1.

Billings Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, who’s running for the PSC in the upcoming primary on the Republican ticket, sponsored the bill.

“And what I wanted was, if there is some concept of unfair hearing coming up, then you could request a hearings examiner and it will level the playing field and, in the end, the commissioners still makes the decision, but the whole hearing will be heard out through a hearings examiner versus than the commission,” Zolnikov says. 

The PSC will still be able to reject a utility’s request for a hearings examiner by vote. PSC attorney Zack Rogala says this provision duplicates existing code to a large degree.

This provision is one detail of a bill the Montana legislature passed last year. The bill requires public utilities to create advisory committees for resource planning and creates a competitive solicitation process for public utilities, among other things.

At its meeting, the PSC said it would put a notice of public comment out over the next few days and leave about a month for feedback, which will play into how the PSC interprets and implements the provision.