The Montana Public Service Commission rejected a $10.9 million interim electricity rate increase on Tuesday that was originally requested by Montana-Dakota Utilities. PSC member Kirk Bushman said the rate increase was requested as an interim adjustment that is part of a larger 21.1 percent, $11.8 million increase under review in a contested rate case before the Commission. Bushman said it was an interesting vote.

"The original motion, which was to deny interim rates at this time and wait until the hearing. Then, there was a motion to amend that to allow 50 percent of the rates to go in as an interim rate," Bushman said. "That amendment did not pass, so we reverted back to the original motion, which was to deny."

Bushman said there could be many reasons as to why commissioners would deny an increase.

"Often the commissioners will make comments even relative to what's motivating their decision, and some of those things might be based on the legal foundation and other things may just be comments that they add to that," Bushman said. "I believe one of the commissioners did in fact reference that they were not in favor of raising interest rates right around Christmas time."

"I can’t think of a worse Christmas present to give Montana’s MDU customers than for the PSC to say 'Merry Christmas, we’ve just given you a 20 percent rate increase,' while we spend the next three months figuring this thing out," said Commissioner Roger Koopman. "Many families are financially strapped this time of year. The last thing they need is a big hike in their power bills – a commodity they can’t do without."

Commissioner Bob Lake abstained from the vote.

"Nobody wants to have a rate increase, but we as a commission have an obligation to make sure the utility has adequate funds to build, expand and maintain their operation to keep the power on, and that comes down to making some decisions that aren’t the most popular," Lake said.

The commission will make a final decision on the increase request in March.