The Billings Outpost

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Best government money can buy

It recently came to light that Northwestern Energy charged customers at least $8.5 million after their coal-fired power plant at Colstrip broke down in 2013. The company passed along replacement power costs directly to us without going through the Public Service Commission.

Consumer protection groups are now objecting to this charge on the basis that it is unfair for ratepayers to bail out NWE for their poor decision-making. That’s sensible.

Why is it that the company bought a lemon for a plant yet ratepayers have to foot the bill? It’s not right, but I predict that Northwestern Energy is going to win this fight. This company gets the best government money can buy.

What most Montanans do not know is that NorthWestern Energy has legal guarantees in place that ensure that they will make the same profit whether their plants are running or not. The company also gets to bypass the regulatory process and transfer the entire cost of buying replacement power directly to customers while their plants are being repaired.

In other words, the company has little incentive to keeps its power generating facilities running and in fact it gets to “double dip” from customers when they break down.

You should be very concerned about this. In 2014 NWE purchased hydroelectric generating facilities from PPL for $900 million. The fact is, they’ve now bought very expensive generating facilities that ratepayers must assume the risk for repairing. How was this allowed to happen?

As many of us remember, Northwestern Energy bought the distribution sector of our power grid when the Montana Power Co. was broken up in the early ’90s.

Since NWE owned only poles and wires, it was not expected to bear any of the financial risk of power plants breaking down. A law was written such that NWE could pass outage costs directly to its customers. At that time, it kind of made sense.

Times have changed. Today, NorthWestern Energy owns many power plants yet is still allowed to utilize the same pass-through mechanism they had when they were just a distribution company. This is unfair. Plant outages are a risk that should impact a utility’s bottom line. Other states have developed cost-sharing mechanisms for when breakdowns occur, and even within our state Montana-Dakota Utilities shares outage costs because they are subject to different laws than Northwestern Energy.

Is it fair to have different laws for different companies? I don’t think so. We tried to do something about it.

During the last session, Rep. Randy Pinnoci and I (who rarely agreed on policy issues) introduced House Bill 189, which would have repealed the “special treatment” regulation regarding power outages that NWE employs to its advantage. The bill was vigorously opposed by the Northwestern Energy lobbyists and their voting bloc in the legislature. HB 189 was killed in committee and then stymied on the House floor when we attempted to bring it to a vote.

We all lost. Northwestern Energy won. Again.

Simply put, government in the U.S. should be by and for people, not by and for corporations.

Northwestern Energy has far, far too much influence on your legislature. Some of your elected officials are working for you on energy fairness issue, but we are still a minority. Keep that in mind when election season rolls around again. Make your voice heard.

Rep. Tom Woods


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:15

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Schmitz for City Council

I am writing in support of Nathan Schmitz for Billings City Council. Nathan is the principal of Elder Grove School. He has shown how he can be an advocate for schools and solve problems they face.

As the principal of Elder Grove he has experience in dealing with politically funded budgets and he knows how to stretch resources to cover priority needs. As an administrator, Nathan has experience with hiring and managing staff, which the council will have to do after the current city administrator steps down. Nathan’s roots run deep, he was born and raised in Billings and he understands the values and priorities that are important to Billings families.

Nathan has the experience to effectively serve the public as a council member for Ward 4.

Lisa Larr


Last Updated on Thursday, 29 October 2015 22:15

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Candidates must return calls

I made 5 (five) calls to a lady who said she wanted to run for City Council. She came by my house and dropped off a flier with all her political points. On there was a phone number.

I called that number five times trying to speak with her since I was not at home when the flier was left. I don’t like to email a person who wants my vote when I really want to get to know them and see what they want to try to do at City council.

I did not get a return call so I feel like I do not matter to her. So why should I vote for her?

Ms. Kerry-Seekins-Crowe, I did not vote for you because you could not make a simple phone call to me.

Think, people. If she wouldn’t call me about my concerns, would she care about yours?

Terri Hill


Last Updated on Thursday, 22 October 2015 22:08

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Zinke protects corporations

In July Congressman Ryan Zinke voted to take states’ rights away for requiring labeling GMOs on our food products. While I agree that GMO labeling should be mandated by the federal government and not piecemeal, his vote effectively prevents any progress at all on this issue.

His vote also allows giant food companies to add “natural” even on products containing GMOs. Genetically modified food is NOT natural! 

A Billings Gazette article cited convincing polling numbers showing that a majority of consumers prefer to know what is in their food, regardless of how they feel about GMOs. We are not alone. Sixty-four nations require GMO labeling.

Many countries are not even willing to import GMO products, thus reducing potential markets for, say, Montana wheat growers, should we capitulate to the pressure to grow GMO wheat.

A high number of congressional Republicans voted in support of this bill.  Since when is the American consumers’ right to information a partisan issue? Who is Zinke kidding when he asserts that he is “strengthening our food labeling laws?” – especially after an even worse vote earlier to repeal Country of Origin Labeling?

Rep. Zinke clearly is not representing the views of a majority of Montanans on these two issues. It would appear that he is more interested in representing a broken partisan system. We need to hold this politician accountable for his double-talk attempts to fool constituents into thinking he is on our side, while he is really protecting corporations that rely on confusion to increase their bottom line.

Jean Lemire Dahlman


Last Updated on Thursday, 22 October 2015 22:05

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Look beyond billboards

Prior to this year, Billings City Council was blessed with nonpartisan elections. That meant no political party designation, contribution or interference.

Unlike many other races, our council ran with independent people representing their neighbors and community. One need not be rich to run. All that is about to change if we sit back and let it happen … 

If you want your City Council to act like Congress and your local elections infected with outside money and divisive partisan politics …

If you are looking for a candidate handpicked by a political party who pledges allegiance to special interests …

If you admire the one who can spend the most money …

Then vote for the face on the full-color billboards.

But if you value our local elections and don’t want outside interests buying them … please look beyond the slick billboards.

Vote to keep our elections local, independent and nonpartisan.

Vote for candidates who will serve you before party politics.

Vote for people who have a proven record of service to our community.

Vote for someone who with whole heart and enthusiasm believes in Billings.

Please vote for independent, energetic Becky Bird for City Council Ward 3.

Karen L. Moses


Last Updated on Thursday, 15 October 2015 20:17

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Reform towing practices

I would like to express my concern regarding the towing business in Billings.

The officer asks if one has a preference and if one has no preference for a company, when a collision is experienced, then the reporting officer calls in and a revolving call list is used to get the next tow/flatbed to remove the damaged vehicle. In the stress of the moment, the vehicle may be loaded on one of the flat beds, which would all be fine and well until it was time of offload.

I was involved in one of these fender benders on the Aug. 6 by MetraPark and the corner going to Main Street, about four miles from my home in Lockwood. I had to ride with the tow truck as I had no other option.

When it was time to offload the vehicle I asked how much was the bill, and the driver said with a straight face $525. I asked him if he were serious and he said yes. He came down to $485. He only took credit cards and he charged a $10 surcharge for using the card.

It seems to me that it is about time for the Public Service Commission to look into this industry and regulate the price structure and remove the arbitrary billing method. I had a vehicle towed from Columbus a few years ago for $90 and one towed from 10th and Grand for $65, but that was several years ago. At this incident the charge was $100 per mile, which is exorbitant, not to mention most insurers pay only $50 for a tow.

Something really needs to be done about this sad state of affairs.

Keith Babcock


Last Updated on Wednesday, 23 September 2015 20:01

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