MT Power Authority Measure Clears State Legislature

Legislation to create a Montana power authority that would be allowed to, among other things, acquire electrical generation facilities, recently cleared the Montana legislature. A state lawmaker who sponsored the measure expressed confidence the bill (HB 474) would be signed into law by the governor no later than May 10.

"The [power] authority is authorized to purchase, construct or operate electrical generation facilities or transmission and distribution systems and also to enter into joint ventures for the same purposes," said State Rep. Paul Sliter in an interview with NGI. He said the state's board of examiners would be authorized to issue revenue bonds for the power authority to acquire electrical generation facilities or to enter into contracts to be a party to a joint venture in the building of generation or transmission and distribution. "The principal and interest on the bonds is payable off the sale of the electrical energy and also would be from transmission and distribution charges if we went that route," he added.

The bill's pre-conference committee report passed both houses of the legislature on April 21 and now awaits the signature of Montana Gov. Judy Martz. In addition, HB 474 designates that the distribution services provider is the default supplier in Montana unless and until it is changed by the legislature. The bill requires the default supplier to provide full supply to all customers who have not chosen an alternative supplier, Sliter stated. Although the state has a fair amount of co-ops, the bulk of the power is supplied by Montana Power Co. and the utility currently is the designated default supplier.

The bill provides incentives through low-interest loans for up to 450 MW of new generation and for the purchase of up to 120 MW of electricity from existing QFs in Montana, according to Sliter.

"We've got a supply crisis in Montana, and I think there's a supply crisis all over the West," Sliter said. "We are currently a net exporter of electricity, but it occurs to me that if we can be successful in increasing the amount of generation, either coal or gas-fired or hydro, in Montana then we can then look to more transmission and distribution. But the ultimate result will be that more generation in Montana, since we're a net exporter, will lead to economic development here, and it will also lead to lower energy prices for our consumers and industrials," he added. Sliter indicated that he expects his measure to be signed by the governor no later than May 10.

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