The cost of public power 

The approval of a second $100,000 investment in Montana Public Power Incorporated (MPPI) will be taken up at the Missoula City Council’s Oct. 24 public meeting. On Tuesday, Oct. 18, the Council’s Budget Committee of the Whole listened as Mayor and MPPI Chairman Mike Kadas and three MPPI consultants gave an update about efforts to purchase NorthWestern Energy and explained the request, which would go toward performing due diligence should a deal be struck. The committee didn’t endorse or reject the idea, but sent it to the full Council for a larger discussion.

MPPI, composed of five cities across the state, is attempting to buy NorthWestern and create a public utility. Though its $2 billion offer has been rejected, MPPI says talks with major shareholders are ongoing and productive.

MPPI’s presentation was met with some hesitancy and a slew of questions by Council members. The discussion came fresh on the heels of an Oct. 17 presentation to Council by Gerald Mueller, who’s worked on Montana energy issues since the ’70s. Mueller explained several of his reservations and concluded that utility customers could be jeopardized—not made more secure, as MPPI holds—by the proposition. He said there are too many uncertainties—about governance, MPPI’s experience and possible legislative action, just to name three—to feel good about the plan.

The main issues Council and the community continue to raise are public involvement in the plan and transparency on details like MPPI’s structure.

“You’ve created it and now you’re saying you want the public involved,” Ward 3’s Lou Ann Crowley said at Oct. 18’s session. “What if people come out and say they don’t want us to give you the next $100,000?”

Kadas reiterated that all the meetings concerning Missoula’s involvement in MPPI have been open to the public but few have showed up or expressed any interest.

“You don’t see much engagement until it seems a deal is imminent,” he said. “And then everyone’s interested.”

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