Your Montana Public Service Commission recently made news concerning intervention in the Southern Montana Electric Generation and Transmission Cooperative (SME) bankruptcy. The list of combatants includes NorthWestern Energy (NWE), Pacific Power and Light (PPL) — owners of the old Montana Power generators — and locally the city of Great Falls and Electric City Power (ECP) which has a direct effect on Great Falls taxpayers.
Reporters portrayed the work session as a raucous duel fueled by old grievances over who should be the chairman of the commission. However, video of the complete session plainly shows commissioners joking, supporting each other’s motions and voting without regard to supposed alliances. The firefight was caused by the personal involvement in, and the intensity of, the issue — not childish vetting.
The first issue concerned recusal. Personal discretion is allowed, but the final vote’s legitimacy rested on the question of Commissioner Travis Kavulla’s recusal. Emails plainly show Kavulla advising customers of ECP not to continue business with SME or its affiliates. This would benefit NWE, raise rates and cascade negative economic events on already beleaguered Great Falls taxpayers.