Guest opinion: Have your say on NWE dam plan this month

2014-04-08T00:00:00Z Guest opinion: Have your say on NWE dam plan this monthBy TRAVIS KAVULLA The Billings Gazette
April 08, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Want to make your voice heard on a deal that, if approved, will affect your power bill for a generation to come?

The Public Service Commission is now taking public comment on NorthWestern Energy’s proposed purchase of 11 hydroelectric generating facilities and one storage reservoir currently owned by PPL.

Whether or not to approve the sale is one of the most important decisions that the PSC has been faced with in many years. It’s important that the public understands the proposed transaction, that your questions are answered and that your opinions are heard.

In short: 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. Customers would also be expected to pay for ongoing maintenance and operations costs, as well as capital additions needed to keep the dams in working condition.

According to NorthWestern, if the acquisition is approved, residential customers’ rates would be 8.9 percent 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 will be 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.

If you want to read NorthWestern’s proposal and what the Montana Consumer Counsel (the rate paying public’s representative) has to say about the deal, you can go online to psc.mt.gov/Docs/ElectronicDocuments/ and search for Docket number “D2013.12.85.”

And if you have any questions, please call me at 406-444-6166. If you want to submit a comment, email it to Commission Secretary Aleisha Solem at asolem@mt.gov or send mail to PSC, P.O. Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620-2601.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Travis Kavulla, R-Great Falls, represents 19 counties in central and northeastern Montana on the Public Service Commission.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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