The Montana Public Service Commission will hold a public hearing in Havre, Montana, on Wednesday, August 29. The purpose of the hearing will be to hear testimony on the Havre Pipeline Company’s request to impose limitations on its customer-service obligations. The company is also proposing lower rates for their “farm tap” customers based on current market prices of natural gas.
The hearing will be held in the Havre City Council Chambers at 520 4th Street, Havre, Montana at 9:00 am. There will be an opportunity for public comment, and members of the public and the media are invited to attend.
“Farm tap” customers are served off the HPC system, and usually obtained their service in exchange for granting a right of way to the company. After receiving complaints that diminishing pressures and associated water was leading customers to lose service, the PSC in 2016 concluded that these farm-taps were a utility service under state law and that HPC could not unilaterally abandon service. HPC challenged that determination in court, but in 2017 District Court Judge Yvonne Laird upheld the PSC’s ruling and dismissed HPC’s challenge.
Since then, the PSC has required HPC to spell out precisely what limitations on service should exist. HPC responded by proposing “special terms and conditions” for customers who take farm-tap service from HPC. These include non-standard business hours, with the condition that problems that occur outside of business hours may not be addressed until the next normal business hours begin. They also include the prospect that natural gas supply to a farm tap customer may be interrupted due to events outside of HPC’s control, such as freeze outs in the line.
The Montana Consumer Counsel is urging that the Commission modify or reject many of these changes. The MCC and HPC have proposed a stipulation to settle the disputed points, but it has not yet been approved.
Commission Vice Chairman Travis Kavulla, whose district includes Havre, said, “Under Montana law, a utility has an obligation to serve. Most natural gas companies do not have the option to interrupt service to their customers. The special terms and conditions present an unusual situation that the Commission will have to decide to accept or reject.”