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NorthWestern announces reduced rates

HELENA (AP) - NorthWestern Corp. said it will be making a small reduction in rates for electricity and natural gas users.

The company, now on a system where it adjusts rates more often to reflect fluctuations in the cost of buying energy, said it wants to lower rates 2.7 percent for natural gas and nearly 6 percent for electricity. They were to take effect on Labor Day.

The firm, in a deal worked out with regulators, now adjusts prices monthly, instead of annually for its 300,000 Montana customers.

''What you're seeing is one of the benefits that we said would exist under the (monthly) trackers,'' said Pat Corcoran, NorthWestern Energy's vice president for regulatory affairs.

He said costs for the energy have decreased since July.

But the decrease may be short-lived.

Corcoran said prices are expected to increase during the winter months.

But he said the monthly changes should still help consumers, because the firm will no longer have to borrow money to buy energy before getting an annual adjustment to rates approved by the Public Service Commission.

He said the cost of borrowing that money used to be passed onto ratepayers.

NorthWestern raised natural gas prices 35 percent last December, and another 35 percent earlier this summer. And the firm's electricity rates jumped 15 percent in July.

Corcoran said the company will still go to the PSC next summer to get an annual look at its rates. The firm, which unlike its predecessor Montana Power doesn't own any gas wells or power plants in Montana, has to buy energy on the open market for its customers.


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