Want to make your voice heard on a deal which, if approved, will affect your power bill for a generation to come?
The Public Service Commission is holding 19 public meetings throughout Montana to take public comment on NorthWestern Energy's proposed purchase of 11 hydroelectric generating facilities currently owned by PPL.
In Havre, the meeting will commence at 5 p.m. and end by 7 p.m. on Wednesday at the Student Union Building's Ballroom at Montana State University-Northern.
Whether or not to approve the sale is one of the most important decisions that the PSC has been faced with in many years. The meeting is an opportunity to ask questions and voice opinions on the proposed transaction.
NorthWestern has agreed to pay PPL $900 million, plus or minus small closing adjustments, for the dams. Under the proposal, NorthWestern customers would repay the purchase price of the dams over several decades, and would also pay for ongoing maintenance and operations costs and any capital additions necessary to keep the dams in working condition.
According to NorthWestern, if the acquisition is approved, residential customers' rates would be 8.9% higher than the rates that would otherwise be expected to be in place in January 2015.
Some of the important questions in this proceeding appear to be:
• Whether the transaction's up-front costs result in equitable and fair rates for consumers. NorthWestern predicts that consumers would pay prices in excess of the market price of electricity for nearly a decade if the dams are purchased, in exchange for what NorthWestern argues are comparatively low rates in future decades.
• Whether consumers should reimburse NorthWestern for a purchase price that includes a significant tax on carbon, which NorthWestern assumes will be imposed in the future.
• Whether future costs to keep the dams in sound working order, and compliant with future environmental regulations, were properly forecast and estimated.
• Whether adequate due diligence was conducted relative to the dams' structural integrity.
• Whether alternatives to supplying customers with electricity were adequately considered, and whether there are alternatives to the dams that would achieve a better balance of price and risk over time.
• Whether the risks of being exposed to the market for electricity outweigh the costs of acquiring the dams.
This is not an exhaustive list, nor is it necessarily a list of the issues that are the most important in this proceeding.
The Public Service Commission also depends on citizens like you to pose questions that may otherwise go unasked, and to voice concerns that might otherwise go unexpressed. This public meeting is an important step in that process.
If you have any questions about the public meeting, call me, at 406-444-6166. Or if you want to submit a comment in writing, you can do so by email to Commission Secretary Aleisha Solem at email@example.com or by mail to PSC, PO Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620-2601. Please note the docket number "D2013.12.85" on your comment.
I look forward to seeing you in Havre.
(Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, represents 19 counties in northern, central, and eastern Montana on the Public Service Commission.