Natural gas bills increase slightly Sunday

Starting Sunday, NorthWestern Energy will collect an additional $3.8 million from natural gas customers under terms unanimously approved by the Montana Public Service Commission this week.

Commissioners approved the increase in what gas customers are charged for universal systems benefits, like aid for low-income energy assistance, weatherization and energy efficiency projects. Commissioners noted that the increased charge is an interim rate, which NorthWestern is allowed to collect while the commission considers whether to make the increase permanent.

The increase in what customers are charged for USB programs was necessary, PSC staff explained, because the amount determined by the company’s natural gas revenues from the previous years. Last year, NorthWestern’s customers paid more for natural gas, which means the USB charge had to also increase because by law the charge is 1.12% of NorthWestern’s annual revenue.

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Commissioner Jim Brown suggested the commission approve the increase, but Tony O’Donnell was skeptical. He said in the each of the last two years, NorthWestern took in more in USB charges than it spent.

“So, my understanding of an over collection is that money was collected, and they

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