January 17, 2017
HELENA, Mont. – Natural gas and electric customers in eastern Montana who receive service from Montana Dakota Utilities will see rates increase this month to account for increases in the utility’s property taxes.
“It deeply troubles me to see these taxes passed automatically onto rate payers in my district,” said commissioner Tony O’Donnell, R-Billings. “It is highly irregular for a utility to be able to raise rates without the opportunity for the Commission to complete a full review.”
Montana law allows public utilities to pass through a portion of their property taxes onto customers with virtually no input from the PSC. The increases go into effect automatically on Jan. 1, and unless the commission can identify errors in the utilities application , the rate increases cannot be reversed.
During the proceeding, the commission lambasted the law and stressed the need for legislative action to fix the problem.
“This proceeding was a model of confusion because of an incredibly short deadline imposed by a law that simply doesn’t work. The legislature should act now to avoid further automatic rate increases for property taxes from being passed onto consumers,” said Travis Kavulla, R., Great Falls, the PSC’s vice chairman.
Though NorthWestern has passed through property tax increases onto consumers using the automatic-increase provision of state law for over a decade, this is the first time that MDU sought similar increases. MDU projects to collect an additional $725,000 and rates will increase by an estimated 2.26 percent and .7 percent for gas and electric services, respectively. Rate increases already went into effect for gas customers, however rates won’t increase for electric customers until due to a stipulation from the last electric rate case that prevents MDU from raising base rates before of this year.
The Commission did vote to exclude taxes from assets which the company has yet to prove provide a direct benefit to customers. $144,844 in taxes associated with both environmental upgrades to the Lewis and Clark generation station in Sidney, as well as reciprocating internal combustion engines located on the site, will not be eligible to be passed through to consumers.
To view the full docket, visit: http://bit.ly/2hOMkYM.
Big Sky Connection
January 17, 2017
HELENA, Mont. - Montana's Ryan Zinke is scheduled for his confirmation hearing today to become secretary of the Interior. If confirmed, the first-term congressman would guide the nation's public lands, wildlife and natural resources. But Zinke's sometimes contradictory voting record has conservationists wondering where he stands on these issues.
Bob Dreher, vice president for conservation programs at Defenders of Wildlife, says Zinke's history when it comes to protecting endangered species isn't encouraging. Of note is a bill Zinke co-sponsored that would have undercut a multi-state effort to protect the greater sage grouse.
"We have significant concerns about whether Rep. Zinke is going to be able to take a national perspective on the role of the secretary of the Interior as steward of the federal public lands and steward of wildlife and steward of all the natural resources that the federal government owns," he said.
Dreher points out that the Interior Department oversees a vast array of agencies, including the Bureau of Land Management, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Indian Affairs, National Park Service and more.
Executive director of the Montana Wilderness Association, Brian Sybert, says the congressman has voted for legislation that would allow for development in wilderness areas, hurting wildlife. He describes Zinke's voting record when it comes to public lands as "checkered."
"Given sometimes supporting keeping public lands in public hands, but also at times supporting legislation that could undermine public-lands management and the public's ability to play a role in influencing our public lands," said Sybert.
At the beginning of this month, Zinke approved a rule change that Sybert criticizes as a step toward transferring public lands to states. The rule change accounts for such a transfer as budget neutral, meaning costs for this action would not have to be offset with the U.S. Treasury. After the vote, Zinke maintained that he does not support the transfer of public lands to states.