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PSC schedules public input sessions for proposed MDU electric rate increase

BISMARCK--The North Dakota Public Service Commission will be holding public input sessions next week regarding a request from Montana Dakota Utilities to increase its rates for electric service.

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BISMARCK-The North Dakota Public Service Commission will be holding public input sessions next week regarding a request from Montana Dakota Utilities to increase its rates for electric service.

The input sessions will be held in Dickinson at Dickinson State University in Klinefelter Hall, the North Dakota State University Research Center in Williston and the state capitol in Bismarck on Jan. 23 at 6:30 p.m. and Jan. 25 at 11 a.m. Mountain Time.

This would increase rates by $13.4 million annually, or a 6.6 percent overall increase. The proposed increase to residential electric customers is 9.4 percent. If approved, rates would increase for residential customers by an average of about $9.60 a month, according to a press release from the PSC.
Montana-Dakota serves about 100,700 electric customers in 117 North Dakota communities.

Mark Hanson, a spokesman for MDU, said the company has various rate classes, which include residential, small general, large general, municipal lighting and plumbing and outdoor lighting. The company performs a rate class study which helps determine how much each rate class should be paying based on usage amounts.

"So what you do is you look at what is the cost to provide service to that customer class and then how much are you charging them," Hanson said. "So, basically are they paying their fair share, so one class isn't paying more than another?"

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Hanson said the reason for the proposed rate increase is due to increased investment in facilities and the associated depreciation, operation and maintenance expenses and taxes that come along with those investments.

The last increase in electric general rates was 6.9 percent effective July 22, 2011. That case was filed in April 2010.

Hanson said the case includes investments that will also be made in 2017.

"If you take when we last filed and investments through 2017, we will have about doubled our investments in infrastructure from what we had in 2010 to what our total would be today."

Hanson said they have implemented a new customer information and billing system, built new offices and warehouses, along with regular transmission and distribution lines since 2010.

"We've had some of this investment offset by customer growth, but it's not keeping up to the level to recover for all of that investment," he said.

The small general rate class, which includes small businesses, would see a 10.9 percent increase if the increase was approved. The large general class, such as industrial users, would see a 4 percent increase in rates. Municipal lighting and outdoor lighting classes would each go up around 1 percent and municipal pumping would see an increase of about 9.7 percent if the proposed increase was approved.

Public input sessions will be held via interactive television from locations across the state, so those in attendance at the Dickinson and Williston locations will be able to see and hear all presentations and questions asked. The public will also be able to listen to the public input session at home via webcast at education.video.nd.qov and submit questions via email. To access the meeting online users may login with ' guest@meeting.edu ' and enter the password 'meeting.'

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Officials from MDU will provide a presentation and give those attending a chance to ask questions about the proposal. Public input sessions are not considered part of the formal technical hearing, but the PSC commissioners will be attending the meeting in Bismarck.

Stacy Eberl, NDPSC consumer affairs specialist, said the PSC will work with special consultants to make sure the proposed increase is actually necessary. That information, along with the public input, will then be presented at a formal technical hearing on April 10 before a decision is made.

"They do these public input hearings to hear from the actual customers," she said. "They (the PSC and the consultants) really get down into the weeds to make sure what MDU is asking for is actually needed."

The PSC has up to seven months from the date the application is filed with the commission to render a decision.

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