Electricity deregulation—still a bright idea?

Montana State Roundup

Published March 1, 2001  | March 2001 issue

Montanans have changed their minds about electric utility deregulation.

In a December Billings Gazette poll, 69 percent of 625 registered voters interviewed said they disapproved of the 1997 law that partially deregulated electricity in Montana, while 16 percent favored it and 15 percent were uncertain.

When asked about extending the deadline for choosing their own power supplier, 54 percent were in favor of holding off; 29 percent opposed it and 17 percent were undecided. The Montana Public Service Commission followed suit in January and proposed extending the deadline to July 2004 for allowing residential users and small businesses to choose their own electricity supplier. And the Montana Legislature is likely to address this issue in the current session

These responses are a turnaround from a 1998 poll that indicated 42 percent were in favor of the law. In that same poll, 74 percent believed power bills would remain the same or decline as a result of deregulation; only 15 percent expected higher costs. But no one anticipated last summer's drought and Western power shortages that led to a hike in prices.

Kathy Cobb