The poll, taken Dec. 14-17, was conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling & Research Inc. of Washington, DC, with 625 registered voters polled. The margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

Pollsters asked whether Montana Power’s projected 20% increase as of July 1, 2002, for residential and commercial customers is acceptable or unacceptable. Of those polled, 67% rated the increase as unacceptable; 24% called it acceptable; and 9% were unsure. In a breakdown, 68% of women and 66% of the men found the proposed rate increase unacceptable. Twenty-seven percent of men and 21% of women called the increase acceptable, while 11% percent of women and 7% of men weren’t sure.

The proposed 20% would be the first since electricity rates were frozen in 1997 for Montana Power customers, and the hike remains uncertain at this point. The Montana Public Service Commission still has to review Montana Power’s electricity supply portfolio for prudence and may lower or raise the suggested rate. This proposed increase would affect only Montana Power customers.

Another question concerned a proposed ballot measure that would create a new state board that could negotiate to buy the PPL Montana dams or condemn and buy the dams so the state could run them for Montana Power customers. Montana Power sold the dams to PPL Montana in 1997, along with its coal-fired power generators.

Fifty six percent support the proposed initiative; 25% oppose it; and 19% are undecided. By gender, 59% of women back the measure, as do 53% of the men. Twenty-six percent of men and 24% of women oppose the measure, and 21% of men and 17% of the women are undecided. The proposal is still being reviewed by state agencies.

The poll also questioned how concerned voters were about the future prices of electricity in Montana. Sixty percent said they were “very concerned” and 34% said they were “somewhat concerned” about future electricity prices, with 6% undecided. In a breakdown, 64% of women and 56% of men were “very concerned.” In addition, 37% of men and 31% of women were “somewhat concerned.”

The final energy question on the poll asked whether those polled favored or opposed construction of new coal-fired and gas-fired generators in Montana. Those who answered were divided, with 45% supporting construction of new power plants, 40% opposing them and 15% undecided.

Men were far more likely than women, by a 56-to-34% margin, to back the construction of new power generators in Montana. Forty-seven percent of women opposed the construction of new power plants, while 33% of men did. Nineteen percent of women were undecided, as were 11% of the men.

At least 10 new power plants have been proposed in Montana, with only one actually under construction. Ground has been broken for a 240 MW gas-fired generator in Great Falls owned by NorthWestern Corp. As the default power supplier, Montana Power must go to the market to secure an electrical energy portfolio to meet the needs of its 288,000 customers as of July 1, 2002. The company can no longer rely on its dams and coal-fired power plants to supply most of its needs because it sold them to PPL Montana for $767 million in 1999.

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