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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Utility bills are broken down into several component: 

The monthly service charge covers expenses that are not usage-sensitive, such as bill and payment processing, meter reading, having a customer service center, etc. This charge does not fluctuate based on usage.

Transmission/Delivery charges cover the costs associated with the delivery of electricity or natural gas from the supplier to the local wires and pipes to homes or businesses. Transmission lines bring electricity to the many areas a utility serves, substations reduce the voltage to parameters that local customers can use, distribution lines get the electricity to the neighborhoods, and individual service lines connect customers to distribution lines. The same principal applies to natural gas, but instead of wires and cables, it is natural gas piping, regulating stations, etc. The delivery charges are regulated by the Public Service Commission (PSC) and changes require PSC approval.

Supply charges are a mix of the costs related to fixed-price purchase agreements, rate-based resources, and short-term market purchases. These rates can fluctuate monthly depending on the market prices. Each year a docket is opened to “true-up” the monthly supply rate changes. The PSC, along with the Montana Consumer Counsel and other interested parties, takes a very close look at each of the monthly trackers to determine whether or not the costs were passed through appropriately, and that all purchases were prudent.

View an in-depth review of a NorthWestern Energy bill

View an in-depth review of a Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. bill

 

For residential utility service, a cash deposit may be required unless credit can be established by demonstrating to the utility one of the following factors:

  1. Prior service with the utility in question within the previous 12 months during which for at least 6 consecutive months service was rendered and was not disconnected for failure to pay, and no more than one delinquency notice was served;
  2. Prior service with a utility of the same type as that of which service is sought with a satisfactory payment record and the reference may be quickly and easily checked;
  3. Full-time consecutive employment during the entire 12 months next previous to the application for service, with no more than two employers, and the applicant is currently employed or has a regular source of income;
  4. Ownership of significant legal interest in the premises to be served.

Even if credit can be established as outlined above, a deposit may still be required if service of a similar type has been disconnected for failure to pay within the 12 months prior to application, if an unpaid, overdue balance is owed for service from the utility, if two or more delinquency notices have been served by any utility company during the 12 months prior to application, if a prior customer with an unpaid balance to the utility resides at the residence, or if the applicant has interfered with the service of the utility in an unauthorized manner in the last five years. The amount of a deposit will be one-sixth of estimated annual billings, and it will be returned after 12 months of satisfactory payments, with 6% interest.

A cash deposit can be avoided if a “responsible party” will guarantee the account. A “responsible party” is an individual or business entity which has maintained service with the utility in question for the previous 24 months, has not been disconnected for failure to pay, and has received no more than two delinquency notices.

Maybe. Companies regulated by the PSC are allowed to disconnect service during the winter moratorium period of November 1 to April 1, unless the utility has been notified that somebody in the household is handicapped, somebody in the household is 62 or older, or the account holder is on public assistance or has income at or below the federal poverty guideline. Companies not regulated by the PSC have their own procedures and policies which may allow for disconnect at any time of the year.

Yes. If a licensed health care professional certifies to a regulated utility that absence of utility service will aggravate an existing medical condition which would threaten the health of a permanent residence, the account will be noted for 6 months and additional process will be required, but eventually service could be shut off if required payments are not made. 

Contact your local Human Resource Development Council office. They will review your situation to see if you qualify for the Low Income Energy Assistance Program (LIEAP) or Energy Share. They will also refer you to other assistance agencies in your community if needed. If help is still needed, call 211 to find out what local assistance may be available.

The electricity supply market in Montana is no longer open to choice. However, NorthWestern and Energy West customers have a choice in their gas supply. The list of licensed gas suppliers can be found here. It's important to understand that selecting a competitive supplier does not change your transmission and distribution company. Customers who choose a competitive source of gas supply will receive two bills; one from the gas supplier, and the other from the local distribution utility for transmission and delivery services. 

 

 

 

The PSC regulates rates and service – we have no jurisdiction over claims for damages. The first step would be to work through the utility company’s damage claim department if they have one. If that is unsuccessful, your next step would be to seek legal advice. 

Contact the utility company and talk to somebody in their New Construction Department. After a request for new service is received, the utility will prepare a cost estimate. The estimate will include any free allowances, and the charges, if any, will be based on the utility’s estimated construction costs. Upon payment, the utility will proceed with the project. Some companies require payment in full prior to construction and some allow a payment plan. This process could take several weeks so it is advised to contact the utility as soon as possible to order new service.

If you have income at or below 135% of the Federal poverty guidelines, or are a recipient of SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, Federal Public Housing Assistance, Veterans Pension and Survivors Benefit, or qualifying Tribal programs, you may qualify for a discount on your phone bill. Contact your phone company to see if they are a participating provider. If they are, they will provide you with information and an application form.

Sign up for the National Do-Not-Call Registry. That will stop most, but not all, telemarketing calls. Visit www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222.

 

The Montana Department of Justice, Consumer Protection Office handles contract disputes and billing matters. They can be reached at (800) 481-6896. The Federal Communications Commission handles matters related to billing, service, availability, competition in the market, or requirement before entry into the market. They can be reached at (888) 225-5322.

 

Contact the Montana Cable Telecommunications Association at (406) 431-4754.

The Montana Department of Justice, Consumer Protection Office handles contract disputes. They can be reached at (800) 481-6896. Contact the satellite company on channel issues.