NorthWestern Energy proposes higher rates for electricity and natural gas

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HELENA — NorthWestern Energy’s Montana electricity and natural gas customers can expect a possible rate increase in October, and another one sometime next year, as the company begins a rate case before the Montana Public Service Commission.

On Monday, NorthWestern Energy sought PSC approval for the utility to raise rates for electricity and natural gas customers. If approved by the PSC, an immediate interim rate increase would begin Oct. 1 and raise residential electricity rates by 15.9% and natural gas rates by 2.3%.

For an average residential electric customer using about 750 kilowatt hours of electricity per month, their monthly bill would rise from $89.04 to $103.22, an increase of $14.18, said Jo Dee Black, spokesperson for NorthWestern.

The average residential natural gas consumer using 65 therms of natural gas per month would see their monthly bill go from $68.49 to $70.09, an increase of about $1.60.

The company’s vice president and chief financial officer, Crystal Lail, said NorthWestern Energy set its prices last based on the number of 2017 on the electric side and 2015 on the natural gas side.

“Since then, we’ve invested over $1 billion in the state of Montana and critical infrastructure,” Lail said. “The ‘why now’ is that we come to adjust our prices like everyone else based on the costs that are rising for us.”

The interim rate increase must be approved by the PSC in the coming months. However, in its application, the company also requested a permanent rate increase of 25.6% for electricity and 11.1% for natural gas.

If the PSC approves the rate increase, which would likely happen in 2023, the average residential customer’s monthly electricity bill would drop from $89.04 to $111.80, an increase of about 22, $76.

The average residential customer’s natural gas bill would increase from $68.49 to $76.06, an increase of $7.57.

However, the increases are still only proposals. The Montana Consumer Counsel, a state agency representing ratepayers, will have the opportunity to intervene in the case, and other interested parties affected by the proposed rate increase may intervene in the rate case. Members of the public can intervene independently of the consumer council. Persons who do not wish to formally intervene may submit written public comments to the CPS.

“We understand it’s incredibly difficult for customers right now,” Lail said. “The prices of everything are going up. Most importantly, we want customers to know that we have resources to help them.

Customers who need help paying their bills can contact NorthWestern Energy to learn more about programs like budget billing, which keeps bills consistent throughout the year and avoids spikes during peak months. energy consumption, such as during the winter. The state also offers a low-income energy assistance program, which helps low-income households with their heating costs, Black said.

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

Members of the public who do not wish to formally intervene may submit written public comments to the CPS by emailing [email protected]; via the PSC website (select the “Documents and Procedures” tab; select “Comment on a Proceeding”; select “Continue as Guest”; complete the form; select “Submit”) or by sending a letter to 1701 Prospect Ave., PO Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620.

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