Editor’s Choice: Northwestern Rate Increase Unfair

Editor’s Choice: Northwestern Rate Increase Unfair

By Ken Toole:

NorthWestern Energy customers are about to get shocked with a huge increase in their electric rates if the Public Service Commission grants NorthWestern Energy’s request to increase residential rates. The public hearings are over and final legal briefs are being submitted. But, like a cancer waiting to metastasize, it has not gone away, and it will wreak havoc on the very people who can least afford it.

Don’t be fooled by efforts to minimize the impact of this rate case. Residential customers are facing a 28% increase in their rates compared to a year ago.  And thanks to a “negotiated settlement” reached by the big guys (the utility, the state, and large customers) large users won’t see any increase at all.  Bottom line this increase falls unfairly on small customers like you and me.

The average residential customer will have to come up with an additional $284 annually or more. Some people may be able to afford it. Some folks can go out and find another job to make ends meet but lots of people can’t do that…particularly Montana seniors. They will be choosing between paying their power bill, buying food, paying rent or purchasing medicine.

While we are waiting to hear how much residential rates will increase, large investors are buying up NorthWestern stock. On May 15 Market Beat reported that six “institutional investors” are increasing their holdings of NorthWestern stock. They are watching this rate case and they like what they see — for stockholders.

The corporate largesse doesn’t end with investors’ stock purchases. In 2022 NorthWestern CEO, Bob Rowe, received over $3.3 million in total compensation. Rowe, now retired, has been replaced by the former Chief Operations Officer, Brian Bird. In 2022 Bird made over $2.6 million. For comparison, Mark Johnson, the manager of the state’s largest electric co-op, makes a little over $450 thousand per year.

While you let that soak in, remember that large customers have cut a deal with NorthWestern Energy which lets them off the hook completely. They will be seeing no increase. We are talking about oil refineries, mining companies and large retailers, many of them owned by multinational corporations. Doesn’t seem fair, does it?
So, all that stands between small customers and an expensive and unfair rate increase is the Montana Public Service Commission. They alone have the power to stop or adjust this rate increase. In addition to all five members belonging to the Republican Party with its long history of supporting big corporations, the PSC has been a dysfunctional circus sideshow, dominated by bickering and in fighting. Commissioner Bukacek was recently quoted in the Billings Gazette saying, “This historic unprecedented increase that people are talking about, it’s $25 to $30 a month. That’s the cost of three to four dozen eggs.” Seems like it’s no big deal to her. Of course, she makes over $100,000 per year and has a medical practice on the side.
But there is cause to think the PSC might do the right thing and reject the “settlement” being proposed by some of the players.  Several of the commissioners have established that they are no friends of the utility companies. Those members may be able to bring along others to build a majority. But they all need to hear from residential customers here in Montana. Call, email, write a postcard, let the PSC know that people are concerned, and people are watching.

Why are these men smiling?