Missoula judge strikes law that gave NorthWestern Energy unfair advantage

A Missoula judge has struck down a law that granted NorthWestern Energy the ability to secure reimbursement for new energy-generating assets from its customers. In a 17-page May 6 opinion, Missoula County District Court Judge Jason Marks deemed the so-called pre-approval statute unconstitutional because it applies only to NorthWestern Energy.

The law at issue, first passed by lawmakers in 2003 and amended in 2007, allows public utility companies to petition the Public Service Commission, which regulates utility companies in Montana, for approval to pursue new energy-generation projects before buying or building them. Opponents of the pre-approval statute have argued that it insulates utilities from the financial repercussions of bad business decisions by keeping captive ratepayers on the hook for costly investments, even if they’re ill-advised.

In an emailed statement, NorthWestern Energy described the statute as a measure that was “wisely put into place” by Montana lawmakers trying to rectify “the calamity caused by deregulation” of Montana’s power industry in the late 1990s.

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The plaintiffs, three Missoula residents and climate advocacy group 350 Montana, argued that the pre-approval statute runs afoul of the “special act” provision of the Montana Constitution,

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