Northwestern, PSC facing friction over winter energy rates - ABC FOX Montana Local News, Weather, Sports KTMF | KWYB

Northwestern, PSC facing friction over winter energy rates

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The 2016-17’s markedly lower winter conditions are a big contribution to higher energy bills in February.

But on Thursday, controversy stirred in the public forum between Northwestern Energy and the Public Service Commission (PSC).

On Tuesday, Northwestern sent out a press release, to address the growing concerns of their customers over a spike in their payment rates. You can read the press release in full here: http://www.northwesternenergy.com/our-company/media-center/current/news-article/2017/02/14/NorthWestern-Energy-Addresses-Helena-Area-Billing-Concerns-and-Questions 

On Thursday, PSC issued a press release of their own, which included ““Contrary to NorthWestern’s claim, the Commission did not approve the latest substantial rate increase that consumers of NorthWestern are experiencing. You can read the press release in full here: http://psc.mt.gov/news/pr/2017pr/Clarifying%20NWE%20statement%20021617.pdf 

PSC Communications Director, Chris Puyear, backed up their concerns over what he calls a miscommunication between Northwestern and the community, saying they do not check or approve any rates because of a restriction in Montana’s tax system.

"The most recent rate increase by Northwestern Energy, which was $19 million that was passed onto customers to account for a rise in their property tax bill, occurred without prior approval from the public service commission,” said Puyear.

Butch Larcombe with Northwestern Energy said their property tax increased by more than $14 million, this year, which he said was surprising to the company, but pointed out that the increase it resulted in for customers is not substantial.

"The rate increase that is tied to the property tax increase works out to about $6 a month for a typical customer, so thats not a huge rate increase, despite what the PSC's press release says."

So why would PSC call out Northwestern over a $6 increase?

Larcombe said he thinks it could possibly stem from political intentions, as House Bill 189 is currently being held up at the Montana Legislature.

"I think they're trying to repeal the property tax directive via their press release, and really that's not the issue,” Larcombe said, in response to why Thursday’s press release came out as a direct response to the Tuesday press release. “We were responding to questions about high customer bills, and they've taken part of that made into a property tax issue."
If passed, House Bill 189 would repeal an automatic rate adjustment provision, which allows Northwestern Energy to increase their rates without PSC approval.

Larcombe said if passed, the bill would cost more money and would draw out the process of changing rate prices for months, which could create added headaches for Northwestern and it’s customers.

Puyear, however, thinks the change is necessary, saying this is the only utility with an automatic provision of this nature.
Without passing House Bill 189, Puyear said elected officials with PSC cannot do their jobs properly.

"What we're dealing with here is really a broken tax policy, that needs to be addressed by the legislature,” Puyear said. “Thankfully they're looking at this issue right now with House Bill 189."

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