Archive for the ‘Public utility’ Category

by jhwygirl

They’ve got an exclusive franchise with the city to provide water. They’re pretty ineffective and managing their business – or at least that’s what they’ve been told by the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) multiple times One large example would be failing to upgrade water mains or even have a plan to do so – water mains which are over 100 years old in part of the city and which leak massive amounts of water, increasing costs for water treatment to all customers. They’ve had their wrists slapped on this more than once.

So now Mountain Water has its britches in a scritches over a recent PSC ruling that requires regulated utilities to disclose salaries of top executives.

So now I NEED to know more…and I want to thank the PSC for looking out for consumer’s interests.

Are we going to find that their salaries are ridiculous? That staff is underpaid? That water infrastructure is going to rust and rot while a handful of execs are living high on our water bill payments?

That there’s such mismanagement that the city needs to figure out how to make our water system a public service?

Because that would really suck. For them.

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by Pete Talbot

“We support the clear will of the people of Montana expressed by legislation to keep homosexual acts illegal,” reads a plank in the state’s GOP platform.

So, most Montanans think that two consenting adults of the same gender should go to jail if they want to have sex. Interesting.

“I think your average Montanan would say the environmentalists have gone too far in stopping growth and stifling the economy,” says Bill Gallagher, Republican PSC candidate in District 5.

It’s environmentalists, not Wall Street and the resulting financial meltdown, that have stopped growth and crippled the economy — at least according to your “average Montanan.” Again, interesting.

This begs the question, what is an average Montanan? The Montana Republican Party, with some exceptions, thinks we’re homophobic anti-environmentalists.

It’s not easy or wise to pigeonhole people, especially Montanans. Examples I know of: a gay football coach, a Prius-driving logger, a lesbian wrangler. The Montanans I’ve met, for the most part, are a tolerant lot. They also have great respect for the outdoors. And this isn’t just in leftyville Missoula. With in-laws in Babb and Billings, and gigs in towns from Eureka to Broadus, Wolf Point to Sula, I’m constantly surprised by the depth and understanding of your “average Montanan.”

Sure, one will run into the occasional Neanderthal, but Montana doesn’t have a corner on that market.

(A quick aside. I wish I could vote in this PSC race but the Bill Gallagher/Ken Toole contest isn’t in my district. Ken Toole is a consumer advocate and industry watchdog. Gallagher is a shill for the utilities. And if Toole loses and the Republican wins in Montana’s northern District 1 [Don Ryan-D and Travis Kavulla-R] then Brad Molner would become chairman of Montana’s PSC. Scary stuff.)

I obviously disagree with the Montana Republican Party that Montanans are an intolerant lot and are opposed to environmental safeguards. Au contraire.

Some folks get stirred up by the far-right rhetoric — much of it coming from out of state: images of drag queens marching arm-in-arm up to the altar of the local Pentecostal Church, or claims of an end to all logging, mining, grazing, hunting and fishing if an environmentalist is elected. This ain’t going to happen.

And I have faith that “average Montanans” will look beyond the fear-based messages put out by the likes of Gallagher and the state Republican Party.

by jhwygirl

These Public Service Commission races often go overlooked. Few elected offices can have such a direct impact, daily, on your life and your pocketbook than the people up in Helena who are hearing requests from utility companies for rate hikes and such. Maybe it’s time to pay attention. Brad Molnar is running for Public Service Commissioner for District 2, which is out near Billings. He is running against Ron Tussing, who has been endorsed by both the Montana Conservation Voters and The Progressive Democrats of Montana. Both Jay and I have written about Brad Molnar previously, here and here.

Perhaps the better question is: How (at the very least) ethically-challenged can Brad Molnar, incumbent and candidate for Public Service Commission District 2, be?

The guy is a sitting Public Service Commissioner, and he solicits donations from both Northwestern Energy and PPL Montana (two donations of $1,000 from Northwestern and one $1,000 donation from PPL Montana). He solicits donations from corporations over which he is elected to oversee?

Dirty.

MCA 45-7-104 has been on the books for how long? But seriously, does Molnar really need to be told that as an public servant he shouldn’t be soliciting, accepting, or agreeing to accept any pecuniary benefit from a person known to be subject to such regulation, inspection, investigation, or custody or against whom such litigation is known to be pending or contemplated?

Or how about MCA 2-2-104, which prohibits a public officer, legislator, or public employee from accepting a gift of substantial value or a substantial economic benefit tantamount to a gift? A gift that that would tend improperly to influence a reasonable person in the person’s position to depart from the faithful and impartial discharge of the person’s public duties?

Oh – and the state does give us a definition of “gift” in MCA 2-2-102:
“Gift of substantial value” means a gift with a value of $50 or more for an individual.
(b) The term does not include:
(i) a gift that is not used and that, within 30 days after receipt, is returned to the donor or delivered to a charitable organization or the state and that is not claimed as a charitable contribution for federal income tax purposes;

So did Molnar return his gifts within 30 days? Only one of Northwestern Energy’s $1,000 gifts were returned within 30 days – the other had been long spent – and was returned only after Northwestern Energy had requested it be returned. As for PPL Montana’s $1,000 gift? Doesn’t look like it – but they did ask Molnar to quit using the materials. He has, of course, refused to do so.

Molnar apparently never saw a problem with either donation – in this letter to Commissioner Unsworth (of the state’s Political Practices), he defends himself by saying he’s returned only the $1,000 from Northwestern Energy.

You know – this stuff is pretty darned basic. He’s an elected official. He regulates over utilities. He oversees both Northwestern Energy and PPL Montana. He reviews and votes on rate hikes that both of these businesses request to have imposed on the citizens of Montana.

You simply don’t solicit donations from utility companies and spend them when you are a Montana Public Service Commission elected commissioner – or someone running for the office.

by Pete Talbot

Goldman Sachs fared much better than Montana Power, the company it helped bankrupt.

For ninety years, the Montana Power Company (MPC) had been a reliable and profitable company. In 1997, it pushed energy deregulation through the Montana legislature, freeing the company to diversify. From 1999 through 2000, on advice from Goldman Sachs, it sold off its power generation and transmission capabilities and entered into the high-risk telecommunications business. In 2003, MPC (renamed Touch America) filed for bankruptcy, having lost around $2.5 billion.

Goldman Sachs, however, received $20 million from MPC for its expertise and counsel during this disastrous transition.

Now it’s 2008 and another bubble has burst. But Goldman Sachs looks like it will weather this one, too. It’s been transformed from an investment bank to a bank holding company to ease investor panic.

This change allows what was the biggest investment bank on Wall Street to help itself to more federal funds and to buy time to stabilize its funding base, according to Bloomberg.com.

Montana Power didn’t have the Fed to fall back on. MPC stockholders got screwed and Montana energy consumers are still feeling the pain.

by jhwygirl

This comes to us via Electric City Weblog.

The Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) was denied access to City of Great Falls records pertaining to the possibly soon-to-be-ill-fated coal-fired Highwood Generation Plant being constructed for Southern Electric Generation and Transmission.

The feasibility study is apparently problematic for the city – City Attorney Gliko said that even the preliminary draft was off-limits, citing that “no feasibility study existed, per se,” and that the city was not required to produce preliminary drafts under MCA 2.4.601(2)(ii)(c).

Looks like Great Falls will be picking up the tab on MEIC’s attorney fees too. Ouch.

We’ve blogged on Great Falls here in the past. This is one of my favorites: Quashing Public Comment and Police Strong Arm Tactics in Great Falls.

Big KUDOS to MEIC and its staff. They’ve got an eye on the Highwood Plant and five other proposed coal-fired plants across the state.

You can download the entire order here.

by jhwygirl

I noticed KPAX covered DEQ’s – or should I say Montana’s – woes in last night’s 10 o’clock news coverage. Good for them. ‘Bout time some local media start taking notice over these environmental issues. KPAX is underrated, I think. They do the very best fire coverage, and they catch some stuff that you won’t see on KECI.

If you missed my last post on DEQ, DEQ in Disgrace, you need to go back and read it. Like the title above says, there is only so much I can fit into one post.

With that being said, here are two items I missed:

Four conservation groups are suing DEQ to stop the Rock Creek Mine, a silver-and-copper mine proposed for the Cabinet Wilderness. DEQ is saying that no water quality permit needs to be issued, and the groups are saying that it endangers sensitive bull trout. DEQ attorney John North declined to comment, while Revett Minerals Inc. Vice-President Carson Rife says that the suit is “baseless.” This apparently isn’t the first lawsuit to stop the mine – according to the Billings Gazette, “lawsuits are piling up.”

Two other environmental groups filed suit against the DEQ earlier this month (gee, isn’t it only the 14th!?), charging that and air quality permit issued for a coal-fired plant in Great Falls isn’t limiting greenhouse gas emissions. The plant is being developed by Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission. Pete did a previous post on this very plant here.

That’s a tough one, folks. I hate coal – I think we should be moving far away from carbon-based fuels, and, besides that, isn’t there a whole bunch of wind up there in Great Falls? The plant, though, will be owned and operated right here in Montana. The electricity it generates will be used here. BUT, DEQ does have a job to do. Air and water, guys – DO YOUR JOB. GET IT RIGHT. If you had, you wouldn’t be getting sued. At the very least, you’d of involved the public enough that you wouldn’t be sitting in this situation.

Beyond that, isn’t Great Falls going to get a coal gasification plant up there by the air base? That would be exempt from any state rules – and hell, it might even be exempt under federal regulatory authority. Coal plants are bad ju-ju for the lungs, folks. It’s no wonder people in Great Falls are speaking out.

Speaking of speaking out: Electric City Weblog, BTW, has been doing some excellent stuff on this issue, right out of ground central, the City of Great Falls.

That’s the short of it…I’m going to have to go back and retag all my old posts on water quality and septic permits and gravel pits with “DEQ” – 4&20 is turning into a DEQ clearinghouse.

By jhwygirl

A late breaking AP story is reporting that Governor Schweitzer met with Mike Kadas and other representatives of Montana Public Power, Inc., and has agreed to see what assistance, if any, his staff can offer towards helping MPPI purchase Northwestern Energy.

MPPI includes 5 cities – Bozeman, Butte-Silverbow, Great Falls, Helena and Missoula – who have committed to a publicly owned utility, similar to a co-op, once it has successfully acquired Northwestern. Kadas heads the group, and is former mayor of the City of Missoula who was also a representative in the Montana Legislature for 14 years.

Last July, Northwestern’s board of directors rejected MPPI’s bid of $2 billion + an assumption of more than $800 million in debt, saying it wasn’t in the best interests of its shareholders or its customers. They later accepted an offer of $2.97 million from Babcock & Brown, of Australia – an offer which was blocked by all five members of the Montana Public Service Commission a little over a week ago.

Citigroup had previously agreed to finance the deal. That’s a pretty serious offer – Citigroup closed at $54.51 today, while Northwestern Energy closed at $32.97.

Count me in as one Montanan that hopes that this is the first step in a successful bid by MPPI to acquire Northwestern and provide public ownership of Montana’s largest energy provider. Let’s hope the Governor can pull through on this one.





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