MT Citizen Groups Mull Energy Ballot Initiative Push

Several consumer groups in Montana, including the local chapter of the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), want to pursue ballot initiatives that would call for the repeal of sections of the state's deregulation law and a ratepayer rebate that would be funded by excess profits from generators.

Along with PIRG's Montana chapter, the state chapter of the American Association of Retired Persons, the Montana Environmental Information Center and the Montana Senior Citizens Association are participating in the ballot initiative process, according to David Ponder, executive director of Montana PIRG. Montana PIRG is one of the few groups, however, that has actually received board approval to get involved with the ballot initiative activities, although he also noted that several of the other groups intend to seek similar approvals from their respective boards.

Ponder said that the groups are mulling three options. "The first would be a repeal of sections of the state's deregulation law," Ponder said. The second option being looked at involves the creation of a public power authority that would be elected by Montana residents. The authority would be vested with the power to purchase certain generating facilities, with the "most likely scenario" involving hydroelectric dams. The third potential ballot initiative involves a ratepayer rebate to be funded by excess profits from generators, Ponder added. He said that the coalition's current plan is to pursue all three initiatives.

Ponder said that the groups involved in the process will have conversations this week and next week related to which ballot initiatives they will pursue. "And, so I expect a final decision on exactly which ones we'll pursue and which ones we'll file will be in the coming weeks." The Montana PIRG executive said that the filing of any ballot initiative language will likely come around late July or early August. "What we're doing is finalizing the ballot language and then that will be submitted within the next month to the [Montana] Secretary of State's office and then the language will be reviewed by the Secretary of State's office and the Attorney General's office," Ponder told NGI's Power Market Today.

Ponder said that approximately 20,000 signatures, distributed over a certain number of legislative districts, are needed in order to get an initiative placed on a ballot. "That's the easy part," he said. The more difficult task, Ponder said, will come along during the campaign season, given the anticipated opposition from power companies that the groups expect. The initiatives would be considered by Montana voters in November 2002.

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