- Associated Press - Tuesday, January 28, 2014

HELENA, Mont. (AP) - Consultants for state utility regulators say NorthWestern Energy hasn’t provided enough information to prove that its proposed purchase of 11 hydroelectric dams would be in the public interest.

NorthWestern has asked the Public Service Commission to approve a $900 million purchase of the dams from PPL Montana.

On Friday, Evergreen Economics of Portland, Ore., issued a memo saying NorthWestern’s application for approval does not contain enough information on how power from the dams is a better option than other alternatives, Lee Newspapers of Montana reports.

“We do not believe the application or supporting documents provide all of the facts and related information necessary for the PSC to reach the conclusion to approve the acquisition of the hydro facilities into the rate base,” the memo said.

The PSC has until Feb. 3 to decide whether NorthWestern’s application is “adequate.” That finding would trigger a months-long review of the proposed purchase.

NorthWestern spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch said the company believes its application is complete, but plans to provide more information to address the consultants’ concerns.

NorthWestern announced last September it reached an agreement to buy the 11 hydroelectric dams from PPL Montana. But the company must show the purchase is in the public interest to gain PSC approval.

The company’s Dec. 20 application said the cost of the purchase would increase customers’ electric rates by 4.22 percent, but owning the dams would provide its customers with a source of reliable, affordable power for years.

The PSC hired Evergreen Economics to help it evaluate NorthWestern’s application.

Evergreen’s memo said NorthWestern compared the cost of the purchase to just two other alternatives, and didn’t show how they compare to the range of 11 power purchase alternatives the company considered in 2011.

The consultant argued NorthWestern should analyze additional alternatives or explain why they wouldn’t be competitive with the purchase of the dams.

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