Guest Post: We need leaders who will plan and prepare, and protect us

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In the midst of our anxiety about the COVID pandemic, the economy, and our ability to keep our family and friends safe, the Public Service Commission has abandoned us in favor of the profits of the monopolies it regulates. Ten years of an all-Republican Commission has brought us childish political infighting, failure to show up for work, falling asleep at public hearings, and an increase to our electric bills of more than 20%. Northwestern Energy and the businesses the Commission regulates are in business to make as much profit as possible. The Commission is all that protects you from the corporations seeking to make profits off your basic life needs. The current Commission has not done its job.

Over the last decade, the scales tipped in favor of corporate monopolies at our expense. NorthWestern purchased a share of Colstrip for $187 million. The Commission allowed Northwestern to value that same asset at over $400 million and recover that amount from us, forcing Montana families to guarantee NorthWestern not just a normal return, but a substantial windfall profit.

Now, the Commission announced it would consider approving NorthWestern’s purchase of more of Colstrip for fifty cents, although NorthWestern did not provide necessary information to assess the risks of that purchase. Both the Consumer Counsel and Commission staff recommended asking for more information before approving the purchase, but they were ignored. Make no mistake: NorthWestern does not need preapproval to close the deal. What it wants is to shift all the risk of cleaning up Colstrip to us.

In January of 2013, NorthWestern valued Colstrip at a negative $340 million dollars – in its own words, “due to environmental concerns.” Seven years later two of Colstrip’s plants have shut down. Repair costs for the plant are estimated at $20 million. NorthWestern CEO Bob Rowe, as Commission Chair, told the 2003 Legislature that preapproval is a moral hazard. The Commission’s job is to protect us from that hazard. Instead, it is poised to force us into a deal that the most sophisticated investors in the world are rejecting.

NorthWestern is required by law to buy renewable energy from wind farms. In a recent hearing for a new wind farm, the Commission refused to follow the law, and set a price so low and contract terms so unfavorable that one commissioner publicly admitted it would kill the project. Montana is losing substantial new investment in clean industry as a result. NorthWestern is doubling down on expensive, dirty coal when the future is renewable energy. We need commissioners who won’t put NorthWestern’s profits above our future, and who recognize the urgency of creating a modernized, affordable, reliable, and renewable energy system.

I have worked with ranchers and renewable energy developers to get projects built across Montana. I’ve fought to protect you by arguing cases before the Commission and the Montana Supreme Court. I am an attorney, a mother, and a two-time Olympian. I worked as a staff attorney for the Commission. I’ve been your advocate at the Montana Consumer Counsel, and in private practice. I will bring this expertise and strong work ethic, along with a deep concern for Montana communities and our future, with me to the Commission. We need commissioners who will fight for you, rather than crippling us with rate hikes. Let’s invest in our future together.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Monica Tranel

Monica Tranel is an attorney who has represented renewable power clients in front of the PSC. She formerly worked as a staff attorney for the PSC and the Montana Consumer Counsel. She works and lives in Missoula and is a Democratic candidate for the PSC, District 4.


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  • Monica, what would be the impact on rates for a wind farm at what you would consider an acceptable rate and contract? 5 or 10 year contract?

    Who IS responsible for the clean up? Is this not bonded and included in NW’s purchase contract and included in the rates.

    20% increase in 10 years. 2% a year. Sounds great to me. You can do better? Please advise.

    • @markdown – You should really consider getting this info for yourself, instead of trying to ambush and foist off distortion and falsehood.

      **”The Judith Gap wind facility is about $32.11 per megawatt-hour (or 3.1 cents per kilowatt-hour) while the coal-fired Colstrip Unit 4 is about $64.55 per megawatt-hour or (6.4 cents per kilowatt hour).”

      **”For the regulated utilities [Colstrip], five of the six owners can pass costs through to ratepayers, subject to a public or utility service commissions’ approval. Some costs already may be being passed on to customers through rates paid over the life the plant. For the unregulated owner, Talen, shareholders would pay for decommissioning [Any clue here why Talen is so eager to sell to NWE?], subject to management approval.”

      • To everyone who loves Montana’s broad, expansive uncluttered vistas and and clear looks to the Rockies and the prairie mountains, there a few things to remember. When you build wind farms you are largely enriching foreign corporations for the development of energy that is scheduled to leave our state or our country. Add to this, there is the need for new transmission corridors stretched across our grasslands and interrupting the natural splendor that gives us so much uplifting pleasure. Yes. It changes everything within the view shed and not for the better. Montana is a net exporter of energy (over 50%). With a few smaller wind towers (not the 400 foot monstrosities) placed strategically near the end users, it would relieve the need to stretch necklaces of wires across otherwise pristine landscapes and instead provide energy to our own citizens. (Need an example? Drive over to the Judith Gap and look at the north side of the Crazy Mountains by Martinsdale or backward toward the Cayuse Hills -hideous giant power towers and lines carrying energy to the West Coast.) Beyond beauty, Montana people like the sense of distance, which is shrunk to diminishment by both – the wind towers and endless strings of power towers and corridors of glinting wires. Montana’s tourism economy is $7 billion dollars with 70-80,000 employees. Do you think people come here to look at Newark, New Jersey? The wind industry, after construction, on the other hand, fields a handful of workers, who drive around and pick up dead birds. Build wind farms where they are needed. Where the consumers live. The energy transmission losses will be reduced and the importers can look at the industrial mess. And, yes, the wind exists
        in plentitude where many people live. California is a prime example.

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