New contracts recently signed by Northwestern Energy will bring lower electricity rates to Montana consumers, perhaps in the next few months, a company official said on Friday.

Northwestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe said the new agreements were based on bids set out by the company to power producers in the area.

"We've been out soliciting bids for some new contracts to supply electricity to our customers, and we've reached some agreements with several producers and at rates that are below our existing rates, so that's good news for everybody," Larcombe said. "Once we've reached an agreement, we start working with the Montana Public Service Commission to put the new rates in place."

Larcombe says the Public Service Commission must approve any rate change, up or down.

"Any increase or decrease in rates requires their sign-off," Larcombe said. "Usually, the decreases in rates are a lot less controversial than the increases."

Larcombe could not be specific on the rates themselves, as they have not yet been officially approved by the PSC.

"It's just too early to say, you know its going to vary a little bit," he said. "The contracts are for different terms and lengths and that sort of thing, and will be implemented at different times, so it's a little bit early to say how much they're going to save. We're hoping that people are going to start to see savings within the next few months as we go into the cooler months and the winter heating season."

Larcombe said the electricity will be coming from a variety of sources.

"A fair amount of electricity in Montana comes from the Colstrip plants in southeastern Montana. We have a pretty solid wind component in our energy portfolio and we do buy hydro-power from PPL, Montana."

Larcombe said consumers might see savings in their energy bills sooner than later.

"We have an agreement with the PSC that allows us to adjust rates on a monthly basis, so we're hoping within the next couple of months that people could be seeing lower power bills."

Northwestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe