To quote a famous movie line ‘What we have here is failure to communicate’.

Public Service Commissioner Roger Koopman was incensed this week when the commission issued a press release issued by Commission Chairman Brad Johnson that Koopman said was filled with ‘trite political rhetoric and absolute falsehoods.’

At issue was the following press release:

Montana Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson (R-Dist. 5) issued the following statement on the status of the pending NorthWestern Energy Rate Case:

During an October 30th business meeting, the Montana Public Service Commission voted unanimously to extend the deadline for the Final Order on the NorthWestern Energy rate case to December 26, 2019. Rather than issuing multiple orders, Commissioners will vote to issue a single omnibus order.

Following their decision, the following deadlines will be in effect:

- January 10, 2020 - Deadline to file motions for reconsideration

- January 24, 2020 - Deadline to file response briefs

- January 31, 2020 - Deadline to file replies to response briefs

Chairman Johnson and Commissioners continue to actively review all records pertaining to this case and look forward to issuing a Final Order by the December 26 deadline. "When a regulated entity comes before the Commission seeking to increase rates on Montana ratepayers, there is a clear process we must follow," Chairman Brad Johnson (R-Dist. 5) said. He added, "But, when a major regulated utility comes to us for the first time in a decade, the stakes are especially high. Along with staff, we work tirelessly to follow the statutory process set by the legislature. Commissioners are working hard to ensure a sound, lawful decision is made - one which will withstand any legal challenges."

“It was fundamentally false information about probably the single most important docket that the Public service Commission is facing this year,” said Koopman. “It’s the general electric rate case for Northwestern Energy, and we haven’t had one of those for nine years. What we needed to decide as a commission was whether the overall retail rate increase asked for of $6.5 million was going to be approved. They actually brought down the original request from $34.9 million down to that $6.5 million, and we voted on it.”

Koopman said Chairman Brad Johnson did not allow any discussion at the time.

“Unfortunately, the chairman did not allow any debate on the $6.5 million increase, which amounted to about a 1.7 percent increase to residential customers,” he said. “ I assumed that no press release went out, but then, a reporter the following week contacted me after I got out of the hospital and said what in the world was this we just received? It says that you didn’t make any decision and you deferred everything until just after Christmas.”

Koopman obtained a copy of the press release and reacted angrily.

“It is on its face, the release was completely, completely false,” he said. “It begins with the lead ‘The Montana Public Service Commission Voted Unanimously to extend the deadline on the final order on the Northwestern Energy rate case to December 26th’ was completely false. The news is that we approved the rate increase, not that we decided to defer our actions until sometime in late December, and that was completely false.”

Koopman said he attempted to contact Chairman Johnson’s assistant and received no response.

“I ultimately had to send out my own release,” he said. “I ran it through our regulatory division for fact-checking first, which is exactly what should have been done before anything was put out by Brad and his assistant Drew on the first of November. None of the other commissioners was involved in that release and the commissioners didn’t even see it. I honestly don’t know what’s going on here. These days the morale at the Public Service Commission has really suffered.”

Koopman issued this quote this week.

“No debate was permitted before the vote, but afterwards commissioner Koopman (R-Bozeman) made clear that approving the overall Stipulation did not mean the commission necessarily supported each specific aspect embedded into the settlement.  "I have personal concerns, for example, over rate design, where some rate classes may be subsidizing others, rather than each class paying their true cost of service.  I also continue to believe there were legitimate questions raised by intervenors over possible unfair charges to ratepayers in connection to Colstrip Unit 4.  I believe these and other questions should be noted in our final Order." 

At the time of this interview on Wednesday afternoon, Koopman had still not received a response from Chairman Brad Johnson.