HELENA — The Montana Public Service Commission will look for consultants to help it evaluate whether NorthWestern Energy’s proposed purchase of 11 hydroelectric dams from PPL Montana is a good deal for its customers.
NorthWestern announced last month it planned to buy the dams for $900 million to provide power for its 325,000 Montana electric customers at steady prices.
The purchase price would be passed on to ratepayers and must be approved by several regulators, including the PSC.
Commissioners agreed with a staff recommendation Tuesday to search for a consultant who is more familiar with the software being used to compare the long-term costs of buying the dams against the costs if NorthWestern continued to buy power from other companies, Lee Newspapers of Montana reported.
NorthWestern expects rates to increase by 5 percent with the dam purchases, and then remain steady for years.
Commissioner Travis Kavulla of Great Falls also suggested hiring a separate consultant to look at the long-term maintenance cost of the dams, another “great unknown” that would be factored into the rates.
NorthWestern plans to apply for pre-approval of the purchase in December, after which the commission has 45 days to decide if the application is adequate.
“I don’t think we can really afford to wait on some of this,” Kavulla said. “If we’re going to have consultants on this, then they really need to be in place before the application lands in our lap.”
Once the PSC determines the application is adequate, the commission will begin an investigation and hold hearings over whether to approve the purchase.
PSC rate analyst Will Rosquist said the cost of the consultants would be paid for by NorthWestern, which can include those costs in its rates.
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