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Proposed PSC order would hit Great Falls with green energy fine

Montana’s Public Service Commission has taken a tough stance against Electric City Power for failing to obtain renewable energy credits in 2010.

That’s according to a proposed PSC order dated Dec. 1.

But there’s still a chance the city of Great Falls can receive some mercy when a final vote is taken.

In the proposed order, the commission ruled the city’s electric utility arm, Electric City Power, “did not take all reasonable steps” to obtain renewable energy credits last year.

The proposed order maintained Electric City Power made a series of mistakes by failing to:

» Install a revenue-quality meter sooner at the city’s sewage treatment plant, where a co-generation facility is producing electricity from the sewage-treatment process. Officials blamed the city’s wholesale electricity supplier, the Southern Montana Electric Generation & Transmission Cooperative, for dragging its feet in obtaining the meter and getting it installed.

» Accept an offer of renewable energy credits from United Materials of Great Falls. At a hearing, City Manager Greg Doyon said the city did not act on the offer because it did not provide all the credits the city needed to comply with state law. City officials eventually accepted the offer of credits, but after a March 2011 deadline.

» Contact power suppliers other than Southern Montana to find the credits.

As a result, the PSC’s proposed order would deny the city’s request for a waiver and order the city to pay the full fine of $132,234 by Dec. 31.

Great Falls City Attorney James Santoro said Monday the city has about three weeks to file exceptions to the proposed order. After the city files its brief, the full Public Service Commission is expected to hear the matter early next year.

The final outcome is not certain. The PSC voted 2-2 last month over accepting a settlement offer proposed by the city that called for a fine of $99,120, rather than $132,234. Under that settlement, the city would be credited for electricity generated by sewage, and for energy credits provided by United Materials, which has a small wind farm near the Great Falls airport.

Chairman Travis Kavulla, from Great Falls, recused himself from voting on the settlement plan, because he had been an outspoken critic of the city’s money-losing operation. In the 2-2 vote, two PSC Republicans, Brad Molnar and Bill Gallagher, favored taking a tough line with the city, while Democrats Gail Gutsche and John Vincent wanted to accept the city’s settlement offer.

It’s not clear what final action the PSC will take.

The fine, if it is levied against ECP, would be deposited into the state’s Universal Low-Income Energy Assistance Fund.