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Montana Regulators To Consider Pandemic's Impact On NorthWestern's Decoupling Program

Editor’s Note 08/20/20: The original version of this story misattributed the included quote and it has since been corrected.

Montana electric utility regulators are investigating the effect of the novel coronavirus on a rate structuring pilot program from the state’s largest utility.

This week, the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) ordered NorthWestern Energy to submit a report factoring in financial impacts from the novel coronavirus on the utility’s decoupling program.

The four year pilot program would prevent both under earning and over earning by stopping the utility from making more money by selling more electricity.

PSC Chairman Bob Lake at a meeting on Aug. 18 said the COVID-19 situation changes on a daily basis, and the report will help the commission decide when to implement the program.

“Putting this one delay on it is the proper way to go, but we’re also gathering information as we go," Lake said.

Last month, the Montana Public Service Commission granted Northwestern Energy a one year postponement of the decoupling program.

Decoupling sets revenue a utility can reasonably make based on operation costs and number of customers. It allows a utility to collect losses by slightly raising rates OR return money to ratepayers by slightly lowering rates.

The PSC asked NorthWestern to include comparisons between 2020 and 2019 customer numbers, forecasts and bad debts in its report. NorthWestern’s deadline to file the report is February 2021.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

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