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Deregulation promises “rung hollow” in Montana

[...] When the old Montana Power Co. came to lawmakers in 1997 with a plan to offer consumers a multitude of choices for cheap power, deregulation was seen as inevitable. But the power turned out to be far more expensive, and the other promises made that year quickly rung hollow.

It is one of the most notorious business stories in the state’s history.

Montana Power sold off its dams and power plants to PPL, then its utility business to NorthWestern to pursue an ill-timed pipedream to become a fiber-optic company. The storied household name, a longtime sponsor of civic events around the state, soon was bankrupt. Hundreds of company retirees holding the stock saw their savings disappear.

Even NorthWestern Energy, expanding too quickly, was forced to file for bankruptcy shortly after the deal. At one point, a foreign hedge fund even tried to gobble up the state’s utility business.

Consumers likely will see a 5 percent increase in their bills to pay for the cost of buying back the dams.

Gov. Steve Bullock, like most Montanans, bemoans those decisions long ago to deregulate. But he said the initial price tag is probably worth it.

“I would much rather have a Montana company owning our dams then a non-Montana company. I think NorthWestern is in it for the long-term,” Bullock said in an interview. “When you look at the long-term stability, I certainly think it makes sense.”

(excerpt from the Helena Independent Record, 9/27/2013 – click here to read the full piece)