Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - As if costs weren’t increasing enough for food, gas, and everyday expenses, attorney and former Congressional candidate Monica Tranel told the KGVO Talk Back audience on Thursday about dramatic increases in our Northwestern Energy bills in the months to come.

Monica Tranel told KGVO that Massive Increases are coming from Northwestern Energy

“Northwestern (Energy) filed for a rate increase on both the electric and the gas side last summer and there was an interim increase,” began Tranel. “This is a historic rate increase. This is an unprecedented amount of money that they're asking for. So the initial request that they came in, they were asking for $100 million increase on the electric side and about $20 million on the gas side.”

Tranel said she was working with an organization called 350 Montana while she was testifying at the Public Service Commission hearings and that the Commission may have a decision by July on the rate increases.

“350 Montana is my client in this rate case,” she said. “So we had the hearing and our briefs, our response briefs are due in 20 days and then in 10 days, it'll be set up and the Commission will make a decision probably sometime in July,” she said. “So we're looking at a request the total amount of money that is being asked for that will be on our bills. The increase is about $170 million total gas and electric and then these other pass through costs for purchased power that are above and beyond what you were paying last summer when this first came in.”

Tranel said ever More Increases Could be on Their Way

One startling piece of information Tranel disclosed was that an even bigger rate increase is coming if Northwestern Energy has its way.

“What's important is during the hearing, Northwestern has said that they will come in within a year with another request that will be not less than $300 million,” she said. “So, we are looking at significant amounts of money that are going on your bill.  For the long and the short of it; there was a settlement that was presented to the Commission for approval. We the residential customers and small businesses are being asked to pay 93 percent of this rate hike.”

Tranel described what will occur if Northwestern Energy is denied its rate increase by the Public Service Commission.

“If they don't approve the settlement, the commission can walk through what the costs are that Northwestern is asking for and say, are those reasonable and just?” she asked. “Is it reasonable and just that management bonuses and executive compensation is a cost of service? Is that reasonable and just? Should that be on our rate? We're saying the commission should ask those questions and take some of those costs out. So the overall final number should be much lower. The large customer group said the increase should be $46 million. So there's a huge range for the commission to consider. So when your question is what's the final number going to be? Contact your commissioner and ask, what are you going to vote for here?”

KGVO Spoke to NW Energy Spokesperson JoDee Black for the Company Comment

KGVO News also reached out to JoDee Black, Public Information Officer for Northwestern Energy who explained the company’s side of the rate increase argument, which included the company’s nearly $1 billion investment in its infrastructure over the years.

“Northwestern Energy made an application with Montana Public Service Commission for regulatory rate review, both electric and natural gas rates,” began Black. “Current rates were set using cost information from 2015 for natural gas rates and 2017 for electric rates. Since then, Northwestern Energy has invested more than $1 billion in our electric and natural gas infrastructure in Montana, which is the reason that we made the application.”

Black provided more information from the company’s perspective as to the actual increases to the average Montana energy consumer if the rate increase is approved by the Public Service Commission.

Black said the Increases would not be as Dramatic as Tranel Claims

“If it is approved by the Montana Public Service Commission for residential electric customers, the bill increases from what rates are right now for a typical residential electric customer would be $8.24 a month, which is 7.6 percent,” she said. “If you are a residential natural gas customer of Northwestern Energy and the Montana Public Service Commission approves the settlement, then the typical residential customer would see a $3.94 cent increase on their monthly bill which is about 6.4 percent.

Some online estimates say that the increase could result in the average residential customer paying an extra $300 per year, and businesses would likely pay even more.

Missoula's Public Service Commissioner is Jennifer Fielder. Make contact with Fielder by calling (406) 444-6199.

The Public Service Commission is set to make its decision in July.

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