Keila Szpaller

(Daily Montanan) The Montana Public Service Commission plans to take up motions to reconsider a rate hike for NorthWestern Energy, according to the chief legal counsel for board that reviews public utilities.

Chief legal counsel Lucas Hamilton said Monday the PSC will take up the motions at a future meeting but a date is yet to be determined.

The PSC regulates monopoly utilities in Montana.

On a 5-0 vote, the all-Republican commission approved a settlement this fall that translates into a 24% electricity rate hike for residential customers and 25% jump for small businesses compared to rates in August 2022.

The rate hike, described as “historic,” translates into roughly $260 more a year for the average residential customer, or bills that work out to an average of $112.94 a month compared to $91.27 a month in August 2022.

In a brief phone call, Hamilton said the motions raise specific issues about the settlement agreement the PSC approved, and Public Service Commission staff members are looking at those details.

“Staff is reviewing the motions and the record of evidence that is implicated in those motions to reconsider,” Hamilton said.

Objections to the commission’s decision include that it places too high a burden on the lowest-income power customers, doesn’t direct the utility to improve efforts that are supposed to help people who earn less, invented a “magical” new standard to evaluate costs (one without legal authority), and sends NorthWestern shareholders an extra $3.4 million that belongs to Montanans.

Most parties didn’t sign onto the settlement approved by the PSC, but NorthWestern Energy and the Montana Consumer Counsel did.