Wednesday, May 18, 2022

Commission should be ‘firm but fair’

by Joe Dooling
| January 16, 2022 12:00 AM

Growing up in Dillon, my Dad would offer up one liners as life lessons. Like “people watch how you lose, as much as they watch as you win. Be mindful of your actions” or “Son, in a small town your neighbors are bound to start fighting, don’t be picking sides, if you do, before long you won’t have any friends.”

As I begin the campaign for Public service Commission I am reminded of one of my Dad’s lessons: “son, the judge was firm but he was very fair in the ruling.” This phrase has stuck with me years after his passing. As I watched my son play football, I’d often question in my mind if the referee called it right, or during his baseball games, was that really a strike? Yet the job of the referee was to be firm but fair.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) acts as a regulator to private companies that have a monopoly in the market place. These private companies have a necessary function for everyday life but are the sole provider of that service. Every state in our union has a governing body to regulate companies that are driven by profits that provide a service deemed important for everyday life. Whether it is electricity, water/sewer, or even taxi cabs.

In Montana we have an elected five member PSC to look out for the best interest of the rate payer.

The job as I see it, is to be firm but fair. What does that mean? Well let’s look at probably the most watched utility the PSC deals with — electricity — and take a little trip back in time to look at what has happened since deregulation. Montana went from one of the cheapest power states with a huge export market for power, to one of the most expensive states and on the verge of having to import power. The 20 years since deregulation have been bad for the consumer and bad for the companies, especially in the western part of Montana.

The consumer has seen power rates double and then some in the last twenty years. The dams that provide power, recreation and irrigation uses are being paid for, for the third time by the rate payers. Once when they were originally built, once when they were sold to PPL after the bankruptcy of Montana Power, and now third time after they were sold to Northwestern energy. Each time the capital expense was allowed into the rate.

It’s been bad for the company as well in the last 20 years, as the companies that provide electricity to the most people in Montana filed for bankruptcy protection. Other than upgrades to the dams, a peaking unit in Anaconda and a few windmills there hasn’t been a serious solution to the growing demand for energy in Montana. The PSC should be encouraging long-term stability for our electricity supply.

I vow to you Montana that if elected I promise to be firm but fair when it comes to regulating the monopolies of Montana. Small town Montana values carry you for a lifetime.

Joe Dooling is a Republican Candidate for the Montana Public Service Commission. He lives in Helena.