HELENA - Montana electric and natural gas customers of NorthWestern Energy can expect one possible rate increase in October, and another sometime in the next year as the company begins a rate case before the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC).
NorthWestern Energy applied for approval from the PSC on Monday for the utility to increase rates for both electric and natural gas customers.
If approved by the PSC, an immediate interim rate increase would begin on Oct. 1 and raise residential electric rates by 15.9% and natural gas rates by 2.3%.
For an average residential electric customer using about 750 kilowatt-hours of electricity a month, their monthly bill would go from $89.04 to $103.22 — a $14.18 increase, said NorthWestern Energy spokesperson Jo Dee Black.
The average residential natural gas customer using 65 therms of natural gas a month would see their monthly bill rise from $68.49 to $70.09 — about a $1.60 increase.
Company Vice President and Chief Financial Officer Crystal Lail said NorthWestern Energy set its prices last based on numbers from 2017 on the electric side and 2015 on the natural gas side.
“Since then, we’ve invested over a billion in the state of Montana and critical infrastructure,” Lail said. “The ‘why now’ is, we’re coming in to adjust our prices just like everyone else based off costs going up for us.”
The interim rate increase must be approved by the PSC within the next couple of months.
However, in its application, the company also sought a permanent rate increase of 25.6% for electric and 11.1% for natural gas.
If the PSC approved the rate increase — which would likely happen sometime in 2023 — an average residential customer’s monthly electric bill would rise from $89.04 to $111.80 – an increase of about $22.76.
The average residential customer’s natural gas bill would rise from $68.49 to $76.06 — an increase of $7.57.
However, the increases are still just proposals. The Montana Consumer Counsel — a state agency representing ratepayers — will have an opportunity to intervene in the case as well as other interested parties affected by the proposed rate increase can intervene in the rate case.
Members of the public can intervene independently from the consumer counsel. People who do not want to formally intervene can submit written public comment to the PSC.
“We understand that it's incredibly tough for customers right now,” Lail said “Pricing on everything is going up. And importantly, we want customers to know that we have resources to help them.”
Customers in need of help with paying bills can reach out to NorthWestern Energy to learn more about programs such as budget billing, which keeps bills consistent throughout the year and avoids spikes during high energy use months, such as during the winter.
The state also offers a Low-Income Energy Assistance Program, which assists low-income households with heating costs, Black said.
A copy of NorthWestern’s application is available online on the PSC’s website. The tracking number is 2022.07.078. Instructions on how to become an interested party can be found under the PSC’s "Notice of Opportunity to Intervene" filing.
Members of the public who do not want to formally intervene can submit written public comment to the PSC by either sending an email to email@example.com; through the PSC’s website (select “Documents & Proceedings” tab; select “Comment on a Proceeding”; select “Continue as Guest”; complete form; select “Submit”) or by sending a letter to 1701 Prospect Ave., P.O. Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620.