NorthWestern Energy presents dam purchase proposal in Butte


BUTTE, Mont. - Hundreds of Butte residents and community leaders filled the Thorton Center Monday night to learn about NorthWestern Energy's proposal to buy nearly a dozen hydro-facilities and weigh in on the plan. Here's some quick background. The eleven dams and one reservoir would cost $ 900 million. All the facilities are currently owned by PPL Montana scattered throughout the state, from the Flathead Indian Reservation to the Madison River near Ennis. Butte residents heard NorthWestern Energy's plan to buy the dams. They say it'll allow them to have predictable, stable prices; 90 percent of their electric needs will be generated themselves and over 50 percent would come from renewable resources. "As long as it does something overall good for the community, then I'm for it," said Chamber of Commerce Ambassador Frances Reed. While most of the public comment at the meeting supported the plan, Butte residents said they have many questions and concerns about NorthWestern Energy's dam purchase proposal. Reed said she's concerned the purchase would spark an increase in electric bills. Northwestern Energy said bills could go up by around $3.50 a month, but some economists have estimated the plan would cost consumers millions. Another major concern is any unseen risks in buying the dams, like the physical integrity of the dams. "The best ideas are often the ones that don't come from the elected officials, but come from the people that we represent," said Public Service Commission District 3 Commissioner Roger Koopman.

He said they've been listening to all the feedback they're getting before they make a decision on the proposal. "Our whole job on the Public Service Commission is to defend the public interest," said Koopman. The PSC hopes to have a final decision on the proposal in the fall. They will get more feedback on the plan Tuesday night in Anaconda. That public meeting is set for 6 p.m. at the Metcalf Memorial Senior Center.

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