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Gazette State Bureau

HELENA– A coalition of citizen groups and advocates will gather this morning in front of Montana Power Co. headquarters in Butte to announce several proposed ballot initiatives to address the state’s energy crisis.

Montana Power Co. was the leading advocate of the state electric deregulation and restructuring law enacted in 1997. The controversial law also enjoyed the support of the major industries, Gov. Marc Racicot, most Republican lawmakers and about one-third of the Democratic lawmakers.

“Disappointed with the lack of leadership to promote affordable and clean solutions to the deregulation debacle, the citizens groups will look to the citizen initiative process to regain control of Montana’s energy future,” a press release said.

David Ponder, executive director of the Montana Public Interest Research Group, was listed as a media contact for the press release. Another participant is Rep. Dave Gallik, D-Helena, from whose office the press releases were faxed.

A number of proposed ballot issues have been discussed as possibilities by critics of deregulation since the 2001 Legislature adjourned in April. They have included proposals that call for:

Repealing the 1997 deregulation law outright, which would reinstate the utility’s obligation to serve and provide power for Montanans, with the prices regulated by the Montana Public Service Commission.

Repealing particular sections of the deregulation law.

Reregulating the power generators that were deregulated by the 1997 law and making sure they are firmly committed to Montana customers.

Placing a referendum on House Bill 474, which guarantees Montana Power full-cost recovery for future power purchases. Rep. Michelle Lee, D-Livingston, has tried to launch a referendum campaign but was blocked by a ruling by Attorney General Mike McGrath. Her challenge of that case is pending in federal court.

Buying for the state the former Montana Power dams that the utility sold in 1999 to PPL Montana.

Buying for the state not only the dams but the coal-fired power plants that Montana Power sold to PPL Montana in 1999.

Buying for the state the transmission lines owned by Montana Power Co., which is selling them to NorthWestern Corp.

Imposing an excess profits tax on power generators – particularly PPL Montana – that have sold power at high prices the past year and dedicating the proceeds to help consumers pay their energy bills and to fund energy conservation and renewable resources projects.