Ashley Nerbovig

HELENA (KPAX) - NorthWestern Energy electric and natural gas rates are set to increase starting Saturday after the Montana Public Service Commission agreed to an interim rate hike.

On Tuesday, the Montana PSC said rates would go up, though not by as much as the company first requested when it started its rate case in August.

Under the new interim rate, the average residential customer's bill will increase by about $11 a month for electric and about 50¢ per month for natural gas.

For the average residential customer, the interim rate approved by the PSC is about $3 less than what NorthWestern Energy proposed for electric and about $1 less than what the utility proposed as an increase for natural gas service.

NorthWestern Energy is in the middle of a rate case with the PSC. The company wants a permanent rate increase of about 25% for electric service and 11% for natural gas.

The PSC is likely to decide on the permanent rate increase sometime in 2023.

If approved at the rate suggested by NothWestern Energy, an average residential customer’s monthly electric bill would rise from $89.04 to $111.80 – an increase of about $23.

The average residential customer’s natural gas bill would increase by about $8 per month.

In August, NorthWestern Energy Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Crystal Lail said the utility set its rates last in 2017 on the electric side and 2015 on the natural gas side.

“Since then, we’ve invested over a billion in the state of Montana and critical infrastructure,” Lail said. “The ‘why now’ is, we’re coming in to adjust our prices just like everyone else based off costs going up for us.”

The permanent rate increase is still just a proposal.

The Montana Consumer Counsel — a state agency representing ratepayers — will have an opportunity to intervene in the case as well as other interested parties affected by the proposed rate increase can intervene in the rate case.

Members of the public can intervene independent from the consumer counsel. People who do not want to formally intervene can submit written public comment to the PSC.

A copy of NorthWestern’s application is available online on the PSC’s website. The tracking number is 2022.07.078. Instructions on how to become an interested party can be found under the PSC’s "Notice of Opportunity to Intervene" filing.

Members of the public who do not want to formally intervene can submit written public comment to the PSC by either sending an email to pschelp@mt.gov; through the PSC’s website (select “Documents & Proceedings” tab; select “Comment on a Proceeding”; select “Continue as Guest”; complete form; select “Submit”) or by sending a letter to 1701 Prospect Ave., P.O. Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620.

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