NorthWestern Energy bills to increase 7% pending PSC decision


MISSOULA, Mont. - NorthWestern Energy released a press release Thursday indicating customers could see up to a 7.21-percent increase on their natural gas bill.

The utility company announced it submitted its annual natural gas supply cost tracker to a request to the Montana Public Service Commission. The tracker analyzes NorthWestern Energy's supply and demand of natural gas and indicates the company's expenses.

NorthWestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe says the rate increases are due to the rising costs of natural gas in the free market.

The PSC must review NorthWestern Energy's supply cost tracker data before the rate increases can go into effect. Spokesman Christopher Puyear says that process can take up to nine months. He says if the PSC finds all the tracker data accurate and no one contests NorthWestern Energy customers can expect to see their bills increase 7.21 percent starting February or March 2018.

Puyear says, in the meantime, the PSC can decide to implement an interim cost increase that is some fraction of the 7.21-percent increase NorthWestern Energy requests. Puyears says customers could see that increase on their bill as soon as July.

If the PSC approves the 7.21-percent increase NorthWestern Energy says the average customer can expect to pay $5.33 more a month or about $63.96 a year.

"Gas prices tend to be kind of dependent on the weather and overall supply and demand issues across the country," said Larcombe.

Larcombe says the average Montana customer paid around $64 a month in June 2016. He says that rate increased to $74 a month in June 2017.

Larcombe says the company projects the increase of natural gas prices trend to last for at least another year.

"In general, though, natural gas prices have been declining essentially since 2008. We've seen a pretty natural decline in natural gas prices, so people have been seeing good news on their bills. This is the first kind of minor change in direction," Larcombe added. "For a Montana customer (bills) were $120 a month in 2008, and last year at this time they were about $70, so there's been a significant decrease."

He says when the price of natural gas falls customers benefit. However, when they go up, customers also feel the pain.

"An increase is always an increase. We have that, we have taxes that continue to go up, and it's just hard. It's hard for everyone," said NorthWestern Energy customer Adele Gibbs.

"The constant raising of things and dropping it randomly can really affect a lot of people," said resident Kaedan Harding.

You can read Northwestern Energy's entire tracking study here.

You can read more about natural gas annual prices here.