The Public Service Commission, along with a NorthWestern Engery representative, visited Glasgow a few months ago to discuss the possible purchase of 11 hydroelectric dams from PPL Montana. The $900 million bid to buy the dams would pass on rate increases to 342,000 customers in Montana. Rate increases have been estimated to range from 6 percent to 9 percent.
Much of the discussions over the last few weeks have been about the rate increase impact to consumers, as well as possible maintenance issues that could arise from dams that may need upgrades and repairs. The PSC argues that further maintenance and operations should be responsible to shareholders and not the consumers.
Up to two weeks of possible hearings are moving along, with the hearings starting last Tuesday in Helena.
Supporters of the purchase argue that the deal is good and brings Montana closer to energy efficiency and will help consumers with rates in the future as coal based energy faces the EPA and legislation. Analysts expect carbon based energy sources to rise steeply soon. The deal would add 633 megawatts of generating capacity to NorthWestern's portfolio and if approved more than 50 percent of their energy portfolio would be renewable energy sources.
Hearings will continue on the weekdays starting at 9 a.m. In the Old Supreme Court Chamber of the state capitol building. The public has an opportunity to comment throughout the hearing process. A final decision is expected by September, and if approved the complete purchase would follow later in the year.
Hydroelectric facilities are Thompson Falls Dam in Thompson Falls, Kerr Dam near Polson, Madison Dam near Ennis, Hauser Dam and Holter Dam near Helena, Black Eagle Dam, Rainbow Dam, Cochrane Dam, Ryan Dam and Morony Dam near Great Falls, and Mystic Lake Dam near Billings.