Consumer advocate balks at NorthWestern rate increase

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Workers from NorthWestern Energy replace power poles in an area burned by the PF fire near Hardin in July.

RYAN BERRY, Billings Gazette

NorthWestern Energy customers have been paying too much for power since July, according to Montana’s defender of consumer interests, who Tuesday asked utility regulators to dismiss the case that led to a rate hike.

At issue is a rate increase of $26.40 year for average homeowners, which NorthWestern had argued last spring was necessary to deal with projected energy prices that turned out to be higher than expected. It was the first of two rate increases sought by NorthWestern that combined, in just four months, increased the average NorthWestern homeowner’s bill by $48.60 a year.

That first rate increase never should have been granted, said acting Montana Consumer Counsel Jason Brown, because it changed the base rates NorthWestern agreed to in its last general rate case less than two years ago.

In other words, the $26.40-a-year rate increase was more than a temporary true-up for higher-than-expected energy prices. Rather, the rate

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