By Tim Leeds
Rep. Michelle Lee, D-Livingston, will be in Havre on Tuesday to gather support for her referendum on the power bill passed by the 2001 Montana Legislature.
The referendum deals with HB 474, "the vehicle we affectionately call the last-minute deal between the Montana Power Company and Pennsylvania Power and Light," Lee said.
Lee will speak at the Hill County Democratic Party meeting at 7 p.m. in the community center in the Holiday Village Shopping Center.
Lee and her cosponsor, Rep. Chris Harris, D-Bozeman, are trying to get the referendum on the November 2002 ballot to let Montana voters decide the law's fate.
Lee said the referendum must have 20,510 signatures, 5 percent of the number of voters in the last governor's election, from 34 House districts, by Sept. 21 to make it to the ballot.
MPC recently announced that it predicts a jump in power rates of 30 percent next summer, not 50 percent as had been originally anticipated. Lee said that is effectively canceling the deal that had been arranged between MPC and PPL.
"Voters shouldn't be on the hook for something the power companies won't stand up for," she said.
Lee said there are many problems with HB 474. One is that it guarantees payment to PPL from the state if any company fails to make payment to it. Another is that MPC, the default supplier provided for in the bill, will incur no financial risks, also guaranteed by Montana taxpayers.
Another problem is with the creation of the Montana Power Authority, she said. HB 474 authorizes the state to sell $500 million in bonds to build new electrical generator plants.
"It puts the state in the business of power. I don't think that's the smartest way to go," Lee said. "It puts the taxpayers on the hook to build facilities that they will never own."
Lee said part of the problem with the power authority is that it should have been addressed as a stand-alone bill, rather than tacked onto a bill passed on the last day of the legislative session. She said 5,400 megawatts of power are already generated in Montana, which only uses 1,800.
If the power authority issue had been properly examined as a separate bill, Lee said, the Legislature would have seen that Montana already exports power and there is no need for the taxpayers to finance new plants for the power companies.
Lee said she will have information at the meeting about HB 474, the referendum and how people can help gather signatures.