PSC seeks penalties on Big Sky propane company, first since Liberty case

The Montana Public Service Commission is asking the court to levy fines against a propane company for failing to file the appropriate rate information as a public utility, despite the granting of several deadline extensions.

The complaint, filed this week, marks the first time the PSC has taken enforcement action against a public utility since the unauthorized sale and transfer of Mountain Water Co. to Liberty Utilities in Missoula.

Last year, the PSC found that ABACO Energy Services met the legal definition of a public utility, making it subject to PSC regulation. As a result, the PSC ordered the propane delivery company to file information needed to meet rate case filing standards.

The company, which serves Big Sky Ski Resort, was given until April of last year to do so.

Chris Puyear, the PSC’s communications director, said ABACO filed a motion for extension two days before the April deadline. The PSC gave the company until the close of September to produce the information.

ABACO again requested an extension in October.

“The commission again granted ABACO’s request,” Puyear said. “However, in the order approving the extension, it cautioned that failure to adhere to the new Dec. 31 deadline would result in the immediate application of civil penalties.”

Eighteen days have passed since the final deadline was granted and ABACO has yet to produce the required information. Nor has it told the PSC why it has not done so.

“I’m extremely disheartened by ABACO’s willful defiance of a PSC order,” said Commissioner Roger Koopman, R-Bozeman, whose district includes Big Sky.

“ABACO was given the opportunity for a full and fair hearing and has had over 13 months to make the required filing,” he added. “Despite multiple extensions of time and numerous other accommodations, they have failed to comply, leaving the commission with no other choice than to pursue immediate enforcement action against the company.”

The PSC’s complaint, filed in Montana District Court, asks the court to impose a maximum civil penalty of $2,000 for each day that ABACO remains out of compliance.

The company is registered as a limited liability company in North Dakota. ABACO owns the propane storage facility and distribution system located in the Village Center in Big Sky.

“The last time the PSC pursued an enforcement action against a public utility was following the unauthorized sale and transfer of Mountain Water Co. to Liberty Utilities,” Puyear said. “That dispute ended in a settlement with Liberty Utilities agreeing to pay $150,000 to the Human Resource Council for use in its low income and renters repair and replacement program.”