Bozeman residents weigh in on Northwestern proposal to buy dams


BOZEMAN, Mont. - Tuesday night, Bozeman area residents got to tell the Public Service Commission exactly what they think of a Northwestern Energy proposal to buy nearly a dozen hydroelectric facilities.

Over two dozen turned out to hear the details of the proposal. Northwestern struck up a deal with the current owners PPL Montana to buy the dams and reservoirs for $900 million.

The company said the plants offer Montana a clean, sustainable energy source, and if approved, would allow for more than 50 percent of the state's energy to come from renewable sources.

But some economists have argued the deal will drive up power bills significantly.
Northwestern maintains bills would rise a bit at first, but end up lower overtime.

The 11 hydroelectric dams include the Kerr Dam south of Flathead Lake, Thompson Falls facility on the Clark Fork River, seven dams along the Missouri River from north of Great Falls south to Helena, and one in southwest and south central Montana.

The plan also includes acquiring non-power generating facilities at generating Hebgen reservoir.

Some citizens who spoke Monday night had concerns ranging from water rights to the details of the Salish-Kootenai Tribe taking over one of those dams- the Kerr Dam.

Many were in favor of the plan, and expressed their support and enthusiasm for the plan to the PSC.

"I feel like it's very important for Montana to keep Montana's natural resources in the hands of Montana," said Bozeman resident Haley Ford. "Northwestern Energy is a Montana company, and it's regulated by the Public Service Commission. I know that these people have our interests at heart."

District III PSC Roger Koopman said as they get more feedback from the public, they're bringing those questions and thoughts straight to Northwestern Energy.

The PSC has the final say on whether this deal goes through, so Koopman said it's important they take all factors into account and sift through the plan with a fine-tooth comb.

He said the public asked great, thorough questions on Monday, as the PSC continues to look at the proposal.

"I think everybody is saying, 'Hey, let's take a fine, a sharp pencil to this,'" he said. "Let's make sure we're doing the right thing here in the long term in the public interest, that the risk is outweighed by the benefit."

The PSC's next public meeting on the hydro electric dam deal is Wednesday in Livingston.

Meetings for Butte and Anaconda are scheduled for April 28th and 29th.

Koopman said they hope to have a decision in the fall.

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