Missoula, MT (KGVO-AM News) - In case you noticed an increase in your Northwestern Energy utility bill this month, it’s not your imagination.

KGVO News interviewed Lucas Hamilton, spokesman for the Montana Public Service Commission on Wednesday who described the original request by the utility this fall.

The Original Rate Hike for Electric was 25 percent and 11 Percent for Natural Gas

“In their original application, Northwestern Energy requested a 25.6 percent average increase for their electric service customers and an 11.1 percent increase for their natural gas customers. So in total, it's a $171 million increase on the electric side and a $23 million increase on the natural gas side.”

The Commission granted the utility a partial interim rate increase for both electricity and natural gas.

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“The commission only approved a 12.6 percent increase so the commission denied some aspects of Northwestern interim rate increase for electric customers,” he said. “For the natural gas side of Northwestern it's a much smaller increase. Northwestern requested a 2.3 percent increase on an interim basis and the Commission approved a  .7 percent  increase on an interim basis.”

The Rate Increase Hearing is Coming Next April

Johnson explained where the rate request currently sits before the PSC.

“Right now we're in the discovery phase of the case, but we will have a hearing in April and that hearing is right now scheduled to start on April 11,” he said. “It could last for a week or more. At the end of that hearing, the Commission will consider all of the evidence presented in the arguments of the parties including the Montana Consumer Council, which is a constitutional body that represents the interests of consumers.”

The Spokesman said the PSC is Looking out for Consumers

Hamilton said the PSC is also concerned about the interest rate and how it might affect Northwestern Energy consumers.

“If the commission determines that the interest rate that was granted was too high, and it produced too much revenue for Northwestern, then the commission has the authority to order Northwestern to pay back any sort of overpayment and actually pay it back with interest. So, there is some consumer protection built into this, if the rates are later determined to be too high.”

Hamilton said the final decision of the Public Service Commission won’t occur until May or June of 2023.

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