End Montana PSC secrecy and corruption

Windmills on sunset
Windmills on sunset

The 2020 Public Service Commission (PSC) race is an opportunity to end the corruption inside of Montana’s PSC. Our current PSC has allowed the energy monopoly, Northwestern Energy, to double its profits in the past 5 years at the expense of Montana consumers. With the subservience of the current PSC, Northwestern Energy is neither investing in renewable energy nor allowing for lower energy prices for household ratepayers. This trend needs to be stopped by new leadership within the PSC.

Currently, a Washington-based company, Puget Sound Energy, is attempting to sell its 25% stake in Colstrip Unit 4 to Northwestern Energy for $1. NW Energy desperately wants this deal by getting the go-ahead from the existing PSC, which would guarantee that we, the ratepayers, would bear the costs of maintenance and environmental cleanup. To add insult to injury, NW Energy is proposing a protective order to the PSC which would conceal associated costs of the Colstrip from the public. During a hearing on Tuesday, February 18th, the PSC voted to allow NW Energy to keep the costs of their proposed purchase of an additional 25% of Colstrip Unit 4 investment a secret from the public.

Not only is this protective order in favor of the monopolies’ profits, not Montana citizens, but this decision to buy more of Colstrip is a huge step backward in tackling our emissions. According to the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), reaching a global warming of 1.5°C will lead the Earth down a pathway of irreversible climate change, causing increasingly numerous catastrophic weather events and species extinctions. According to the IPCC scientists, our CO2 emissions for limiting global warming to 1.5°C must be about 65–90% lower in 2050 relative to 2010 emission levels. If the PSC wants to ignore what science is demanding from our energy grid, they need to at least stand up for Montanans’ energy rates. The protective order that the PSC is allowing will conceal NW Energy’s expenses from Montana citizens, those who will be paying for this coal power. Who is the Public Service Commission defending in allowing this protective order, Montana citizens or the energy monopoly?

Approving the protective order was certainly not the first time the PSC has favored the monopolies over Montana consumers. In 2008, Northwestern Energy purchased 25% of Colstrip Unit 4 for $187 million, but the PSC granted an evaluation of $407 million on this purchase.  NW Energy receives an 11.5% return on equity from everything that they own. Therefore, Montanans are having to foot the bill of an 11.5% return on the $407 million evaluation that the PSC approved. The PSC’s job should be to protect Montanans from these unfair proposals by the monopolies, but the PSC has been submissive. In 2008 and again today, the PSC is allowing the monopolies to make massive profits by concealing the true costs of Colstrip and allowing the Montana household ratepayers to carry the burden.

Luckily, we will soon have new leadership in the PSC with 3 out of the 5 seats up for election this year. It is a disgrace that our elected officials on the PSC have allowed a monopoly to make $200 million a year in profits off of Montana ratepayers while granting rate increases for Montana citizens and rate reductions for corporations like Wal Mart. I am running for the Public Service Commission to put an end to this corruption. Our PSC needs to stand up for us and work hard to hold the monopolies accountable for fair rates and transitioning away from fossil fuels. On the PSC, I will always put Montana citizens over the monopolies’ profits with every decision that I make.

The fossil-fuel industry has deep roots of corruption in our political system by spending billions of dollars on political campaigns in exchange for political compliance for their large coal, oil and gas projects. In January of 2019, I launched the ‘no fossil-fuel money’ pledge campaign in Montana to work towards taking the fossil-fuel money out of our politics. It is a necessity to stop the corrupting money in our politics if we want to stop the climate crisis. After talking to almost every state-wide politician and looking at their fundraising reports, I knew that I was going to have to be strategic and fierce to get our future politicians to not take fossil-fuel money. I organized demonstrations and protests, wrote letters to the editor, and went to every candidate’s events in Missoula who took fossil-fuel money to confront them publicly on the issue. With the help of our growing Sunrise Movement hub, we have had 20 candidates from all levels of Montana government sign our pledge to give up fossil-fuel lobbyist, PACs, and executives money for their political careers. You can see the full list of the 2,000 politicians who have signed the ‘no fossil-fuel money’ pledge at nofossilfuelmoney.org.

On the PSC, we need Public Service Commissioners who are willing to confront the corruption of the monopolies and other Commissioners head-on. Energy is a basic need for everyone, and I will not allow NW Energy to increase its profits off of Montana citizens again. On the PSC, I will stand up for the working class every time and push for a 100% renewable energy transition. There is a lot of work to be done with our utility monopolies to create a more sustainable, just future for all Montanans. I will be the strongest advocate for combating the PSC corruption and pushing for a brighter future.

 

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About the author

Daniel Carlino

Dan Carlino is a candidate for the District 4 Public Service Commission and is one of three Democrats, to date, who will face off in the June 2 primary election.

3 Comments

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  • Northwestern Energy is also an active member of ALEC. We should be questioning any member of our legislature introducing canned bills for NW Energy at our expense. We cannot afford to have that agenda continue to invade every aspect of MT life.

  • P.S.- Have you sent this as an op-ed to the newspapers of the state? It should be published in every paper for a much wider audience.

    • Yes, ALEC played a huge role in forcing the deregulation of Montana Power through the legislature. A shortened version of this should be published on other news sources as well. This article is a response to Tuesday’s PSC hearing.

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