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Montana's 2020 election
Montana's 2020 election
The Montana Free Press guide

Public Service Commission

Three district-based seats on the five-member Montana Public Service Commission, which regulates monopoly utilities including power companies such as NorthWestern Energy. Commissioners are elected to four-year terms. The remaining two commissioners, Randy Pinocci and Brad Johnson, are out-of-cycle in 2020, though Johnson is running for secretary of state.

Candidates

District 2
Representing Billings and southeast Montana. Incumbent Tony O’Donnell is seeking re-election.
District 3
Representing Bozeman, Butte and southwest Montana. Incumbent Roger Koopman is facing term limits.

Republican

Democrat

Independent

District 4
Representing Missoula and northwest Montana. Incumbent Bob Lake is facing term limits.
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On the issues

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

Tony O’Donnell (R)

Brilliant!

Kirk Bushman (R)

I would rate the performance very low. News stories alone paint a picture of bickering and infighting and campaign violations. Personal agendas seem to be the priority and staff seems to be running the show. There are small water and propane utilities who have been struggling to resolve rate cases for years with this PSC. Commissioners don’t seem to understand federal regulations vs state law nor their role in processing dockets brought before them.

Daniel Zolnikov (R)

I would rate the current performance of the Public Service Commission as unsatisfactory. Commissioner Tony O'Donnell's inability to attend work in Helena for three months straight, while at the same time campaigning for the next election, is unacceptable. His absence from work occurred before the coronavirus pandemic. Another commissioner's inability to differentiate between private and work emails is simply an embarrassment. Even the Public Service Commission's legal team has prioritized hiding scandalous emails over maintaining integrity. The PSC has been named in numerous lawsuits and abused their heavy-handed, time consuming discovery overreach, making the EPA look like a dream. My opponent is clueless when it comes to the complicated energy issues and has not led on a single issue while on the PSC. He has attacked me for campaigning hard and raising money from hundreds of donors, yet he believes that donating ten thousand dollars to himself to buy the seat is the moral high ground.

James Brown (R)

The current Commission suffers from what has commonly plagued the Commission for years. That is, the commissioners are allowing personality conflicts and personal grievances to overshadow their important regulatory duties. Further, the commission needs to better understand and comply with the “right to know” and “right to participate” clauses of the Montana Constitution.

Alan George (R)

Overall good. However, the obvious conflicts between some of the commissioners should end to allow concentrated professional effort on the critical regulatory tasks they are mandated to perform.

Will Deschamps (R)

I believe they are dealing with the issues that come before them.

Champ Edmunds (R)

In spite of the negative public attention from infighting, overall the PSC has been doing a good job, particularly the term limited member that I hope to replace, Bob Lake. The public bickering needs to stop. Commissioners should focus on the job to be done and not on personal differences or personality clashes.

Jennifer Fielder (R)

To put it nicely, I would say there is plenty of room for improvement.

Valerie McMurtry (D)

They have failed the voter/ratepayer who elected them. The PSC is to protect ratepayers from unfair and unnecessary rate increases by monopoly utilities, NorthWestern Energy in particular. In the 12 years of a Republican majority they have not seen a rate hike they didn't like from NWE. The commissioners allow the utility to not disclose information that is in the public domain. It is called the Public Service Commission, not the Corporate Service Commission. They appear to be serving the shareholders of NWE rather than voters who elected them. I will put the “public" back into the PSC.

They also have an accountability issue of not showing up for meetings. They were elected to show up at meetings, to speak up for the ratepayers, and to stand up to NorthWestern Energy. They have failed all of these.

The chaos of the commission because of the infighting and spying on each other has resulted in a dysfunctional PSC. They need to be replaced.

Tom Woods (D)

The current PSC has a well-deserved, dismal reputation. From poor attendance at hearings on the part of some commissioners to the well-publicized episodes of bickering and spying between members, public perception of the PSC is that it is dysfunctional. Recent decisions to impose rate increases on homeowners and farmers while granting rate cuts to corporate box stores are evidence that the commission is deaf to the needs of regular Montanans. To be brutally honest, transparency and fairness have declined considerably under this commission.

Daniel Carlino (D)

The current Public Service Commission is failing Montana ratepayers. The PSC has become subservient to NorthWestern Energy and its profit motives, regardless of the harm to our environment and utility bills. The PSC has allowed NorthWestern Energy to double its profits in the past five years by unfairly evaluating Colstrip and the dam purchases, guaranteeing NorthWestern Energy a much larger return on equity. We need new leadership on the PSC, commissioners who will stand up for Montana ratepayers against the monopolies’ interests every time.

Monica Tranel (D)

The PSC has abandoned Montanans in favor of the monopolies it regulates. 10 years of an all-GOP PSC has brought us childish political infighting, failure to show up for work, falling asleep at hearings, the stifling of Montana’s renewable energy industry, and an increase to our electric bills of more than 20%. The current spying and partisanship has distracted from the real work of the PSC, taken a toll on staff, and is demoralizing for everyone. The hyper-partisanship has resulted in a direct economic blow to Montana’s schools, roads and emergency responders. Montanans shouldn’t feel the impacts of a dysfunctional PSC on their monthly bills. We need commissioners who recognize the urgency of creating a modernized, affordable, reliable, and renewable energy system. I’m running for commissioner to make Montana an energy leader in today’s economy. We can generate millions of dollars of new investment and good-paying jobs in our communities and guide Montana towards a renewable energy future.

Rob Elwood (I)

Currently they are very disjointed, and don't seem to be consistent in their regulation. They also do a poor job at having public hearings in locations and at times that invite public participation.

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?

Tony O’Donnell (R)

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.

Kirk Bushman (R)

I graduated from MSU – Bozeman 1988 with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering technology. My first professional job was as a field engineer. I was fortunate to travel worldwide while I managed multi-million dollar projects. This involved construction, training plant personnel and performing to the terms of sales contracts. This required overcoming cultural differences and language barriers, as well as dealing with each group’s business interest. I currently work for Kestrel Engineering, a position I took following a four-year term on the Public Service Commission. My experience includes projects with refineries, power plants, mining companies, and more. Some projects were to meet government and/or environmental regulations, some to increase production/efficiency and others were to recycle outdated facilities that had been shut down. I bring to the job a diverse background spanning more than 30 years in the private industry and four years representing District 2 on the Montana PSC.

Daniel Zolnikov (R)

As a state legislator, I have been a member and served as the Chairman of the House Energy Committee. I have worked on energy policy and have rewritten dozens of Montana’s energy, utility and PSC laws to clarify long term energy planning. I enacted oversight on the utility’s 20-year long-term energy plan to ensure the methods, data and assumptions used are valid. I also reformed the competitive bidding process to ensure that all energy sources can compete to fulfill the needs and make sure consumers, like you, get the most affordable energy. As a state legislator, I have literally rewritten the playbook. The PSC can now look at the data to make well-informed decisions.

My background includes a certificate in energy policy planning, three business majors, a political science and finance minor and a master’s in business administration. I have a solid grasp of incentives, policy, economics, energy, mediation, volatility, the role of government and long-term and short-term planning.

James Brown (R)

I have been a lawyer for 16 years. My legal practise consists of engaging in complex civil litigation and protecting constitutional rights. Therefore, I am uniquely qualified to meet the complex legal demands of this position. Further, unlike my opponents who are academics, I am a small business owner. Consequently, I inherently understand the business perspective in a way that none of my opponents do.

Alan George (R)

I have extensive training in mechanical engineering including a Ph.D. from Oregon State University. For over 34 years, I have held licenses as a Professional Engineer (P.E.) in both Montana and California. Due to professional training, I am very familiar with technologies related to energy conversion processes, energy transmission, energy utilization, and environmental issues.

Will Deschamps (R)

I have a BS in business management. I understand the complexities of business.

Champ Edmunds (R)

The PSC website states, "The process of setting utility rates is somewhat like the process a banker uses in making a business loan." I have worked as a banker making loans. Additionally, I have navigated submarines, which requires calm pragmatism, worked as a public accountant, served on the Appropriations Committee for two terms while in the Legislature, and I hold a BS in accounting and finance from the University of Montana. My education and experience make me the most qualified candidate in this race.

Jennifer Fielder (R)

Objective thinking, deep study, and critical analysis are strong points for me. During my career I have spearheaded multiple legal and finance projects, worked extensively with project engineers, and represented small towns and citizen's organizations in hydro-electric relicensing proceedings with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. As a lawmaker in the Montana Senate these past eight years, I served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which addresses complex legal matters and contract law. I also served on the legislative interim committee with direct oversight of the legal team assigned to PSC-related functions. My experience has equipped me with a firm, well-rounded understanding of legal and financial processes, constitutional law, sound business practices, and sustainable economic principles.

Valerie McMurtry (D)

There is a highly educated, professional staff of approximately 30 that studies the issues that come before the PSC. These scientists, energy specialists and attorneys that make up the staff then advise the PSC. The current PSC often makes decisions that conflict with the professional recommendations of the staff without justification.

I am a retired educator who listens, evaluates and problem-solves. As an educator I have always had to read and research best practices for teaching my students. I would use those skills to make decisions in the best interests of the parties, based on the information and recommendation of the PSC staff.

As a regulatory agency, it is vital that members of the PSC listen to all sides, ask questions and arrive at decisions. I would also rely on my knowledge gained from discussions with colleagues and staff to disseminate the information and arrive at a conclusion and decision.

Tom Woods (D)

As a person who brought many, many bills to make utility regulation more fair to consumers, I'm familiar with the laws governing utility regulation. I know where they've "buried the bodies." As a four-term legislator, I have a lot of experience parsing the competing arguments of attorneys and lobbyists. As a university physics instructor, I'm pretty darn familiar with technical issues surrounding power generation and distribution. In my younger years, I ran businesses such as hotels and transportation companies. I think I will bring a wealth of technical, legal and business experience to the position.

Daniel Carlino (D)

After working on political and environmental campaigns in Montana for the past four years, it has become clear to me that politicians have put the monopolies’ profits over what is best for everyday Montanans’ interests. I will be a strong, consistent voice and vote for the benefit of the working class, household ratepayers and frontline communities with every decision that the PSC has to make. With our team of PSC staff experts, I will ensure that we effectively parse the materials to ensure that we have an environmentally just and economically sound future for everyday Montanans. Most importantly, I am the only candidate who has the right vision to stop the fossil-fuel energy projects and create accessible, sustainable utilities for our low-income and rural communities.

Monica Tranel (D)

I bring two decades of legal experience working directly with PSC issues, including as a staff attorney at the PSC and the Montana Consumer Counsel. As a staff attorney I worked on legislation, rulemaking, and served on regional and national committees, like the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissions (NARUC). In private practice, I’ve represented renewable energy clients before the PSC, handling cases that I’ve both defended and appealed all the way to the Montana Supreme Court. Cases I’ve handled include Qwest v. The Montana PSC, where on behalf of the PSC I defended the PSC’s right to investigate monopoly utilities; I represent WINData in the pending appeal before the Montana Supreme Court challenging the PSC’s pricing of renewable energy projects; as an attorney at MCC I successfully prevailed on two cases where NWE claimed it was entitled to replacement power costs when Colstrip and Dave Gates Generating were offline, keeping $10 million in Montana rather than going to NWE.

Rob Elwood (I)

I currently serve as a councilman on the city council in Harlowton. I also chair the ordinance committee, where we are currently rewriting all the ordinances for the city. As such, I've been involved in legal and engineering issues, and happen to enjoy working through them. I also have a lot of background in power from my previous job experience at IBM. I am a solar and wind power fan, and an advocate of net metering.

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?

Tony O’Donnell (R)

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.

Kirk Bushman (R)

No, I do not. The PSC staffing, budgeting, and IT would need to be restructured. First, the PSC and MCC budgets are primarily funded by NorthWestern Energy and MDU customers. Hospital regulation would tip the scales of the funding mechanism enough to be considered unjust. An additional revenue stream would need to be established from the Medical Sector. Secondly, depending on the type of hospital regulation, the PSC would have to add knowledgeable staff of legal and technical issues common to the medical field. Finally, the PSC has struggled with IT issues. Even after red flags were raised, the PSC decided to transfer IT services to the state. This is something not even the Legislature would do. That is right, the Montana state Legislature has its own IT services. After hundreds of thousands in expenditures, the PSC’s website and IT services struggle to meet basic standards of today.

Daniel Zolnikov (R)

The scope of regulation over legacy telephone companies, garbage haulers and passenger motor carriers is minimal. PSC oversight of hospitals is currently not in the law so the PSC has no regulatory scope. The Legislature would have to grant this ability and greatly expand the size of the Public Service Commission. As complex as energy is, health care is much more complicated. First off, health care providers in Montana would have to be given geographically isolated monopolies with a captive customer base to even be remotely comparable to the entities mentioned above. Second, unlike a monthly energy bill based on energy usage (a single product), health care literally has thousands of moving pieces. From labs to surgeries, each visit is unique to the patient. Having an entity approve or deny costs, equipment, returns on investment and so on would be nearly impossible.

James Brown (R)

The decision to add hospital oversight to the PSC's regulatory responsibilities is a legislative decision, and a legislative decision alone.

Alan George (R)

The regulatory authority of the PSC is largely set by state law. The current regulatory scope is satisfactory.

Will Deschamps (R)

I do not, however, the final decision will be made by the state Legislature.

Champ Edmunds (R)

Yes. The PSC regulates businesses that otherwise could be monopolies and services that are necessities. Hospitals, in my view, are in this scope.

Jennifer Fielder (R)

Hospitals are in a unique position to price-gouge customers, and for that reason I do believe the possibility of bringing them under enhanced citizen-driven oversight should be considered. In order to lower the cost of health care, it is vital that fraud, waste, and abuse within the medical industrial complex is stopped and that tort reform is enacted to protect health care providers against unwarranted litigation. At the same time we must be very careful not to add unnecessary layers of bureaucracy to a system that is already overburdened by it.

Valerie McMurtry (D)

As the world is quickly changing, becoming more technical and integrated, it is necessary to be a bit of a visionary when dealing with energy, technology, and transportation. Service, price and safety are my concerns with the utilities that the PSC currently regulates and oversees.

I think that with the COVID-19 pandemic, health care has taken over as a world concern. Certainly the state’s hospitals and clinics need an agency to manage equipment, personal protective equipment, and care for when this situation recurs. I do not think it should be the PSC's jurisdiction. They have enough utilities to regulate, which the current commissioners have failed to adequately do.

Any hospital oversight committee should have medically trained staff as a criteria for being appointed. It should NOT be a partisan position, just as I believe that the PSC should also be nonpartisan.

Tom Woods (D)

The job of the PSC is to balance the needs of consumers with the monopolies that serve the public. The fact is, hospitals are currently engaging in price gouging because they ARE indeed monopolies. For example, yesterday, I was billed $200 for a lab test that could not have cost more than 10 bucks. So… yes I do think the PSC has the regulatory scope to rein in hospitals and I wrote a bill to do just that (HB 747). Some might think that setting hospital rates would require medical expertise, but health care prices are already costed (by zip code) and published by Medicare. Setting a limit based on these guidelines is not rocket science. Hospitals HATE this idea of reference based pricing because they would far rather charge whatever they want.

Daniel Carlino (D)

With poorly regulated utilities and other basic needs like health care, many Montanans are being left out from having these basic services. The PSC oversight should be expanded to ensure that every Montanan is getting fair treatment and adequate service. Health care and utilities like energy and water should be human rights, so PSC oversight should be expanded to cover all of these basic needs. Throughout this campaign, I have been an advocate for better recycling/composting programs and restoring passenger railroads. We need leaders on the PSC who are willing to lobby the Legislature to push these important policies forward. On the PSC, you can count on me to work with the Legislature and to put Montana household ratepayers first over the industry’s profits with every decision. This is how we can ensure that every Montanan has access to these essential services, regardless of their income.

Monica Tranel (D)

The commission’s role, as set out in the statutes below, is to oversee natural monopolies that deliver specifically delineated services defined by statute. Based on current Montana law, I do not see any authority for the PSC to oversee hospitals.

69-3-301. Schedule of rates, tolls, and charges. (1) Every public utility shall file with the commission...

69-3-101. Meaning of term "public utility". (1) The term "public utility", within the meaning of this chapter, includes … for the production, delivery, or furnishing … (a) heat; (b) street-railway service; (c) light; (d) power in any form or by any agency; (e) except as provided in chapter 7, water for business, manufacturing, household use, or sewerage service, whether within the limits of municipalities or towns or elsewhere; (f) regulated telecommunications service...

Rob Elwood (I)

Yes, I do, and I also believe the PSC can and should be involved in hospital oversight. I was an RCDD with BICSI for years, which means I designed, certified, and inspected telecom cable plans. I work in health care now. I grew up in a railroad town, and have always been a railroad buff. The PSC is, in fact, the agency that should be involved in the regulation of these industries at the state level.

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

Tony O’Donnell (R)

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

Kirk Bushman (R)

The PSC should apply the law. If any weight is to be given to climate change it should be done via the Legislature. There are challenges on the federal level that raise questions as to the authority of the FERC (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission) relative to renewable energy resources (Qualifying Facilities). Conflict regarding these issues can arise and are usually settled in legal cases between the PSC and FERC that may or may not involve the governor’s and AG’s office. Given the latest court decisions against the PSC in favor of the solar companies regarding QF contract lengths, it is clear the PSC does not understand how to apply the federal regulations. The commission should have taken a balanced approach of adjusting the avoided cost and contract length per type of generation. These adjustments then should have been applied equally to the utility and the company proposing the QF contract.

Daniel Zolnikov (R)

This is not the legal role of the commission; the commission has no lawmaking authority. By considering these factors, they would be stepping outside of the boundaries of the law, end up in court and likely have their decisions overturned or changed. The commission's role is to ensure Montana's utility customers have affordable, reliable energy.

This is a politically charged question, but if the inclination is to change the role of the commission to encourage decisions based on climate change considerations, then the Legislature must change the law. The Legislature is where these decisions must be made.

James Brown (R)

The PSC works within the confines of the laws and regulations it is tasked with administering and overseeing. Climate change considerations are and should be given proper weight by serving commissioners within those legal confines.

Alan George (R)

Yes, safe and reliable delivery of regulated services must be the highest priority. However, development of a 10- or 15-year plan for all regulated services would be useful. Responses to climate change would no doubt increase during that time interval.

Will Deschamps (R)

I do. The climate changes every day. The PSC has to make decisions based on the ever changing demand for energy.

Champ Edmunds (R)

Some people misunderstand the role of the PSC. The PSC must follow the energy policies as set by the federal and state governments, and the board should not be driven by political ideology. It is not the job of the commissioners to set their own policies. Attempting to do so can result in lawsuits that waste taxpayers' money.

Jennifer Fielder (R)

I am not sure of all that the current commission has done on this subject, but I do believe that many climate change arguments have been plagued by junk science and unnecessarily politicized. It would be nice to take the politics out of it and look at the facts. It is important to have reliable, cost-effective energy sources and to have clean air and water too. What I don't like to see is government siding with one industry over another. All options should be allowed to compete and prove their viability. Environmental regulation should ensure they can do so responsibly, but should not be used as a weapon to kill one industry just so another one can gain an unfair advantage.

Valerie McMurtry (D)

Absolutely not! The 20-year plan of NorthWestern Energy makes no mention of renewables, which the states bordering Montana are beginning to integrate into their power grids. Wind energy, hydro, solar all are energies of the future, and they need to be properly studied and assessed. In a “hot mike” situation after a meeting last fall, the chair of the commission was overheard saying that he doesn't like renewables. That narrow and closed-mind approach is backwards and wrong.

The PSC needs to be forward thinking and visionary in its outlook. All types of energy needs to be evaluated and given consideration. Renewables are getting less expensive to produce as well as store. Any five-year plan and beyond needs to consider integrating them into current and future use.

Tom Woods (D)

Nope. They have recently refused to even hold a discussion on it.

Daniel Carlino (D)

The PSC is the most important Montana body to take serious action in mitigating climate change. The current PSC has addressed the costs to the monopolies and costs to the ratepayers, but they have not adequately addressed the costs to our climate, environment, or public health in their decisions. While NorthWestern Energy’s greenhouse gas emissions are predicted to rise over the next 20 years, it is critical that we have Public Service commissioners who will reject the energy monopoly’s proposed investments in natural gas and coal power. I am proud to be the only candidate for PSC who is taking a stance against NorthWestern Energy’s plans to frack for four new natural gas plants in our beautiful state.

Monica Tranel (D)

Absolutely not. The PSC is not following fact, science or law when making decisions. The Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) was passed in 1978 and adopted by the Montana Legislature (Montana’s Mini-PURPA), and obligates monopoly utilities like Northwestern to buy renewable energy; the PSC sets the price when the parties don’t agree. In a hearing for a new wind farm, the PSC refused to follow law, and set a price so low and contract terms so unfavorable that one commissioner publicly admitted it would kill the project. I’ve argued that case on behalf of the wind farm to the Montana Supreme Court. I’ve worked with ranchers and renewable energy developers to get wind, solar, and hydro projects built across Montana. I’m the only candidate endorsed by Montana Conservation Voters and climate change scholar and Nobel laureate Dr. Steve Running. I am committed to guiding Montana towards a renewable, reliable, and affordable energy future.

Rob Elwood (I)

Yes. But to be clear, it is not the PSC that should be driving climate change initiatives. The PSC needs to regulate various industries with an eye toward environmental responsibility. An example would be sending the power plan back to NorthWest Energy to redo with consideration given to wind, solar, hydro, and geothermal energy (which is what they should have done).

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?

Tony O’Donnell (R)

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.

Kirk Bushman (R)

No, the PSC recently rejected the application of NorthWestern Energy for additional shares of CU4. Then two weeks later, the PSC changed their mind. One commissioner voted “no” on reconsideration which passed 3 to 2. He then voted “yes” on the issues to be changed under reconsideration… that doesn’t make any sense! If there are economic benefits to be preserved, the burden is on the utility to demonstrate these benefits during the proceedings. The PSC’s process is to determine if it is in the “public interest” or as often stated “reasonable and prudent” (low cost reliable resources). These terms may seem ambiguous, but they do take on meaning in the formal procedure. The case is subject to parties who may argue in favor or against the utilities application. The job of the commission is to facilitate the arguments of the parties involved and render a decision, not kick it back into the public arena for debate in the media

Daniel Zolnikov (R)

Once again, this is not the legal role of the commission; the commission has no lawmaking authority. By considering economic benefits, they would be stepping outside of the boundaries of the law, end up in court and likely have their decisions overturned or changed. The commission's role is to ensure Montana's utility customers have affordable, reliable energy.

If my legislation had been enacted a few years earlier, MDU's integrated resource plan, or long term plan, could have been opened up to ensure that data and modeling used was accurate. We can not go back in time, but this oversight now exists for the PSC and will be properly utilized if I am elected to the PSC.

James Brown (R)

As a fourth-generation Montanan, I know and understand the investment those who live and work in Colstrip have made in their fine community and I personally identify with those rural Montana values. The role of the PSC is to protect the public interest and a PSC commissioner is to serve as a neutral judge on matters that come before the commission — according all due respect to the parties who appear before the commission. The economic benefit of coal generation, including coal generation at Colstrip, is a consideration for markets and public policy makers — the latter of which is not, in my view, the role of a commissioner.

Alan George (R)

Yes, abandonment of those facilities before their design life is exhausted would be wasteful of existing infrastructure including both the power plants mentioned and the associated transmission lines.

Will Deschamps (R)

I do.

Champ Edmunds (R)

Yes, but the consumer must come first. One of the jobs of the PSC is to ensure that ratepayers continue to have utility services that are affordable, reliable and sustainable for the long term. That is what I plan to do as commissioner.

Jennifer Fielder (R)

Whether it is an appropriate level or not I can not say, but I do believe the current commission has done quite a bit in this regard.

Valerie McMurtry (D)

No! The PSC has turned a blind eye to the high cost of coal energy. They are not considering the cost to the 374,000 Montana ratepayers who get their electricity from NorthWestern Energy.

The Lewis and Clark coal-fired plant owned by MDU in Sidney, Montana closed in January, 2020. MDU did this as a cost saving move due to the expense of coal generated electricity.

Coal is the most expensive energy and it will only continue to get more so. The problem with the current PSC is that they are prejudiced against renewables. The PSC could and should be doing more to require NWE to consider integrating renewables into their 20 year energy plan. The PSC has used outdated evaluations of renewable energy in their rulings.

Tom Woods (D)

I think that they have shown adequate concern for the economic benefits of coal. The PSC needs to do a better job of planning for the inevitable transition away from coal. Washington and Oregon have made it crystal clear that they don't want to buy coal-generated power from us after 2025. Other power sources have become FAR less expensive than coal. That's the new reality we need to face. If we fail to plan… plan to fail.

Daniel Carlino (D)

Not only is coal-powered energy the worst for our climate, environment, and public health, but coal power is now the most expensive form of energy in Montana. The PSC has unfairly evaluated NorthWestern Energy’s stake in Colstrip Unit 4 in the past by giving NW Energy a $407 million evaluation on what they only paid $187 million for. Montanans have been bearing a much larger energy bill because of the horrible decisions that the PSC have made when evaluating coal generating plants. The PSC needs to reevaluate their decisions with Colstrip to give Montana ratepayers their money back.

Monica Tranel (D)

We must ask what the economic benefits are that are being preserved. We must include the impact that industry has on society at large, as well as the life cycle costs of any plant. It’s unacceptable that the PSC has defied recommendations from the Montana Consumer Counsel and PSC staff and announced it would consider approving Northwestern’s purchase of more of Colstrip for $.50, even though NWE hasn’t provided necessary information to assess the risks and costs to customers. What NWE is asking the PSC to do by making the $.50 purchase is to shift all the risk of cleaning up Colstrip to us. In January 2013, NWE valued Colstrip at a negative $340 million dollars – in its own words, “due to environmental concerns.” Seven years later two of Colstrip’s plants have shut down, and repair costs for the plant that is still open are estimated at $20 million. The PSC has become a rubber stamp for NWE, sticking Montanans with the bill. If elected, I’ll fight for fair rates for Montanans.

Rob Elwood (I)

Yes. Ideally, we would like to see those plants stay open but modified to emit less pollution, and not pollute the groundwater. In fact, the Sidney plant was in line to be modified before the decision was made to close it. There is a place for coal in our energy plan here in Montana, but the plants need to be cleaner, which will drive the price up, ultimately changing how it is currently used.


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