Montana's 2020 election
Montana's 2020 election
The Montana Free Press guide
Republican for Public Service Commission
O’Donnell, of Billings, was elected to the PSC in 2016. He previously worked at a home improvement store and ran a retail merchandising company.

Key coverage in the race for Public Service Commission

Race profile: Six candidates vie for three Public Service Commission seats

With one incumbent seeking reelection and two open seats, November's election will bring new leadership to the troubled regulatory agency at the heart of Montana’s energy politics
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Campaign finance

No campaign finance data compiled for this race at this time.

On the issues

Issue statements were solicited from active candidates via a written questionnaire before the June primary election. Answers were lightly edited for punctuation and spelling.

How would you assess the performance of the current Public Service Commission?


Utility regulation is highly technical work that involves complex legal and engineering issues. What experience do you have that makes you confident you’ll be able to effectively parse detailed briefing materials and fairly evaluate competing arguments from business representatives and environmental advocates?

I had been told that there was a “steep learning curve” on this job; it isn't true, there is no curve to it, but it is a vertical line. It would take several years for one person to master all the information that a commissioner must take in. The current PSC staff includes a CPA, four attorneys, an economist, and several rate analysts with various specialties. They have up to 40 years of experience in these certainly complex matters. The diligence I have practiced on the commission includes reading all testimony and related material, which has enabled me to ask penetrating questions. I pay equal attention to all “sides,” thereby seeing an issue from many sides which leads to greater understanding and better decisions.

In addition to energy companies, the PSC regulates telephone companies, garbage haulers and passenger motor carriers. There has been some discussion in recent years about adding hospital oversight to the commission’s responsibilities as well. Do you think the PSC has appropriate regulatory scope?

The PSC is charged with providing the lowest cost for electricity, and that is an objective standard. In the medical field, however, the lowest cost may very well not be the best so, no, I do not support regulation of what is essentially a subjective area.

Do you think the current Public Service Commission has placed appropriate weight on climate change considerations?

Climate change considerations are beyond the statutory authority of the PSC.

Do you think the current Public Service Commission has placed appropriate weight on preserving the economic benefits of coal generating plants in Colstrip and Sidney?

In addition to the lowest cost mandate, there is also a requirement for reliability of power. Coal plants have adequately demonstrated much higher reliability than intermittent sources. Beyond the economic impact of these plants on employment and tax base which funds schools and other county operations, which are extremely important, there is the economic impact of having stability in electricity availability to both businesses and families.

Stay tuned for more

We'll be updating this page with new information through Election Day in November 2020.

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