Sunday, February 05, 2023

Inflation is moderating, but not for Northwestern Energy customers

by John Repke
| August 24, 2022 1:00 AM

I woke up to news last week that the US inflation rate is moderating. Good news – unless you are a customer of Northwestern Energy. NWE has just announced that it is seeking rate increases of 15.9% for electricity and 2.3% for gas – effective Oct 1. But that’s not all. After the first of the year, NWE will request increases of 25.6% and 11.1%, respectively. And these increases are in addition to the spike in natural gas prices that have been showing up in our utility bills already. On top of that, businesses will have no choice but to work the new rates into their prices, which means more inflation for folks in Montana.

Here in Montana, NWE is regulated by the Public Service Commission, so you have to wonder how it got to this point. Well, in the week prior to the rate announcement, some of your commissioners were working on their proposed rule change to limit public participation in the rate-setting process while others were crafting (I use that word lightly) a political piece they called an urgent press release. So, they are busy! It’s just that they are busy playing politics while your utility costs are on the verge of skyrocketing.

The PSC is charged with ensuring that utility services are affordable, reliable, and sustainable. I agree with this objective, but we need to add ‘predictable’ or some other term that would prevent a sudden, massive cost increase to Montana families and businesses. The PSC and NWE are both

at fault here. Nothing unforeseen happened. As a former businessman, I can tell you that this size of increase with such short notice driven by nothing more than failure to manage ongoing finances is unacceptable. When elected, I will want to know how and why this could happen and I will work full-time to dig into this increase on your behalf.

It’s the job of the Public Service Commission to “serve” the “public” - but the jolt of these huge increases proves they aren’t up to it. As I continue my campaign, I look forward to speaking with folks about the work of the PSC and its impact on their lives. I’ve already heard how energy rates are tough on a lot of folks stressed by tight finances and on small businesses that must scramble to redo their budgets hoping there will still be some margin.

Competent management of your rates won’t happen with more uninformed political babble. Competent management needs someone who knows what they’re doing, has the experience to challenge the utilities, and will avoid surprises - someone who will ensure that service is affordable and reliable – in other words, fair.

Fortunately, the bulk of these increases won’t be approved until after the election. This means you still have a chance to do something - you can vote for a new voice that will represent you on the PSC. I respectfully submit that I am that voice, and I ask for your support on November 8.

John Repke is running for Public Service Commissioner for District 5. John has BS and MBA degrees in Finance and 40 years of business experience in areas directly related to the work of the PSC. He lives in Whitefish with his wife Beth.

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