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Public Service Commission to Decide on Sale of Dams to Northwestern Energy [AUDIO]

Hydroelectric Dam
photo from shutterstock

On Friday, the Montana Public Service Commission completed two weeks of hearings on whether the sale of 11 hydroelectric dams to Northwestern Energy is in the public’s best interest.

District Four Public Service Commissioner Bob Lake, who represents Missoula and Ravalli Counties, said the two weeks of hearings were a combination of the exciting and the mundane.

“It was a very interesting, very informative hearing,” Lake said. “In some cases very similar to watching paint dry, but in other cases it was pretty close to a hockey game. It was a standard, legal-type hearing, with hundreds of documents and lots of expert testimony. We’ll take the next few weeks for officials from both PPL Montana and Northwestern Energy to submit final briefs, and then we’ll come to a decision.”

Northwestern Energy announced in September of 2013, that an agreement had been reached with PPL Montana to purchase 11 of their hydroelectric facilities for a price of nearly $900 million dollars.

Northwestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe said the electricity generating facilities are located throughout the state.


“We have reached an agreement with PPL to buy their hydro assets in Montana, which consist of 11 hydroelectric generating dams and one storage reservoir on the Missouri and Madison and Clark Fork and Flathead rivers, so it is exciting news,” Larcombe said.

Northwestern Energy has been primarily in the power distribution business, however Larcombe said this was a golden opportunity for the company to purchase electric generating facilities, such as the Kerr Dam located on the Flathead River near Polson.

“This was a real good opportunity for us to buy some clean, sustainable generating facilities that we think will serve our customers for decades to come,” Larcombe said. “PPL is the major owner of the Colstrip plants in Eastern Montana, and they sell electricity to big customers. We have bought electricity from PPL, but they’re a totally different operation, and they’re part of a company out ofPennsylvania.”

Larcombe said the $900 million price tag for the dams and facilities was high, but explained why the investment was worthwhile.

“It’s important to remember that PPL has been a good owner of these properties,” Larcombe said. “They’ve invested more that $400 million in the dams in recent years. We think they’re in a position to be very solid performers for years to come.”

Commissioner Lake said the regulatory body will make their final decision before the end of the year.

“Our final decision’s going to come sometime between now and mid-September,” he said. “We’re bound by law to make the decision nine months after the application’s been made.”

Lake said the five member board does not have to be unanimous in its decision as to whether the $900 million dollar sale is in the best interests of the people in Montana.

Montana Public Service Commissioner Bob Lake

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