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Council Encourages Opposition To MDU’s Rate Increase

Following a proposal by Montana-Dakota Utilities to the Montana Public Service Commission to increase electric service rates, one local advocacy group is dedicating efforts to a campaign opposing the rate hike.

On Feb. 8, the Dawson Resource Council hosted a campaign strategy planning meeting for its members to discuss MDU’s proposal to increase electric rates and how to most effectively combat the effort. The DRC is one of 13 local chapters under the Northern Plains Resource Council made up of “farmers, ranchers and concerned citizens who wish to promote, preserve and protect our land, water, air and food for future generations.”

“We just kind of decided that our role right now is to get the word out,” DRC chairwoman Melissa Holt said in an interview last week.

According to MDU’s application – Docket No. 2022.11.099 – filed with the PSC on Nov. 4, 2022, the company requests an electric service rate increase of 19.2 percent for residential customers, as well as an interim rate increase.

“MDU asserts that its existing electric rates are unjust, unreasonable and not compensatory because they do not allow MDU to fully recover the cost of providing electric service to its Montana customers,” the PSC case states.

Holt noted the DRC is working on reaching out to businesses and organizations such as Action for Eastern Montana, Living Independently for Today and Tomorrow, churches, downtown businesses and other nonprofit organizations the rate increase would impact.

“Really right now we’re just going around handing out fact sheets and asking people if they’d be interested in writing in a comment to the PSC and just spreading the word as much as we can,” Holt said.

The primary reason the DRC started campaigning against MDU’s proposal to increase electric rates was simply to raise awareness to the effort. According to observations of the DRC’s membership, it was increasingly apparent not many people were aware of what was going on, at least at the time.

“It’s kind of how we do most of this sort of campaign work,” Holt said. “If it’s going to affect the people in our community, we tell the people in our community because, as far as we’re seeing, this wasn’t really a widely known about thing and I think obviously it should be.” Although uncertain of the effect their campaigning efforts are having on the PSC, Holt noted members of the DRC have heard people are continuing to submit public comments, making the collective voice of those in MDU’s service area known.

“We’ve heard some things from people closer to the PSC that they’ve gotten a lot of comments in and people are listening,” she said. “The fact that our two representatives voted against the interim increase already is showing that our voices are being heard.”

The PSC has up to 10 months from the application filing date to issue its decision on the matter, however Holt noted a hearing is tentatively scheduled to take place in June of this year to either approve or disapprove MDU’s proposal.

“We just want to see what’s best for eastern Montana and all of its people ... (and) we are just taking advantage of this public comment period and trying to get the word out to as many people as we can,” she said. “We just felt like (this increase) really wasn’t fair to the community.”

To learn more about the DRC’s campaign against MDU’s rate increase proposal, visit www.northernplains. org.

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