By Roger Koopman,
Oct. 26, 2016
Editor's Note: Here the incumbent Public Service Commissioner from Dist. 3 defends his record.
I have to admit that this has been a most unusual campaign. There has been almost no discussion by my opponents on issues of substance. Nor have they challenged of any of my positions or votes while serving on the PSC – something I would have welcomed talking about.
Instead, I have one opponent (Ms. Cooper) who insults my integrity, saying I have a “cozy” relationship with NorthWestern Energy, because I apparently accepted a small, fully reported donation from their employee PAC 12 years ago as a candidate for legislature. Cooper claims to be the only honest candidate in the race, because she refuses PAC donations. Yet when the Montana Conservation Voters PAC gave her a sizable in-kind donation in the form of a professional campaign school (valued at $225 over the minimal registration fee), she showed no intention of reporting it. Indeed, when MCV did the right thing, informing her that it was an in-kind PAC donation, Cooper went ballistic, filing a complaint against MCV with the Commissioner of Political Practices. This “honest” candidate clearly wanted to completely hide the donation from public disclosure.
Then there is Rep. Noonan, whose main charge against me is that I am (in his words) “a dangerous deregulator.” He’s not specific, so I have no idea what he’s talking about, because the Public Service Commission has no authority to deregulate anything. The deregulation of Montana Power was done by the legislature, and I opposed it at the time. If he’s referring to my commission votes allowing competition in passenger service (UBER) and approving consumer choice in garbage collection where monopoly now exists, I’m guilty as charged! But I hardly consider that dangerous. Apparently Pat does, since he voted against the popular UBER bill in the House.
For those who are confused by all of this, let me offer a straightforward description of my first term on the PSC. In every way and at every opportunity, I stood for the consumers of this state. I approached my work as a firm and fair regulator, always keeping the rate-payers’ interests forefront in my mind. On many key issues and key votes, I provided bold leadershjp in defense of the consumer, opposing sizeable rate hikes that previous commissions would have passively approved.
The PSC has been doing a very good job, resulting in residential electricity rates that in real, inflation-adjusted terms, have risen just 2.6% for NWE in the past four years, and declined 2% for MDU. (Ms. Cooper’s assertion that rates have increased 15% is pure, politically-driven rubbish.) Meanwhile, gas rates have declined for those utilities during that period, 21% and 17% respectively. Yet there is much work left to be done, as we face both the challenges and the exciting opportunities that lie before us. Utility regulation needs a major overhaul, with more incentive-based, risk-sharing approaches replacing the old paradigm of passing through to the customer every risk, cost and operational mistake.
As we face these critical issues that so greatly impact our families, our communities and our economy, I would be deeply honored to serve you for another four years on the PSC.
Public Service Commissioner, District 3