It's the little things that tend to make living in a relatively small town so much more enjoyable. You know, like a barista or bartender calling you by name. Or neighbors helping you shovel your driveway after a snowstorm. Or the electric company sending you sweet little recipe cards with your bill.

That last one got us thinking recently. We're referring to the recipe card that NorthWestern Energy has been including with each month's statement since earlier this year. In June, the company, which, incidentally, recently received permission from the Public Service Commission to jack up natural gas rates by 4.6 percent, included recipes for "Cream Corn Sauce with Fish or Chicken" and "Grandma's Fudgy Brownies." Granted, Grandma's brownies sound pretty freakin' tasty, but why again is this information coming alongside your ever-increasing monthly bill?

NorthWestern spokesperson Butch Larcombe says it's part of a longstanding tradition, a carryover from when power companies used to sell appliances and offered cookbooks to help customers maximize their new, say, electric oven. NorthWestern published a cookbook of employee family recipes to mark its centennial last year, and Larcombe says the collection was so well-received that many copies were purchased outside the company, with about $3,000 of the proceeds going to charity. The company then decided to include recipe cards in monthly statements, and expects to continue the practice until the end of the year.

Larcombe admits a few people have questioned the reason and added expense of this feel-good gesture. But he assures that the cost is minimal because NorthWestern has an in-house printer and is already mailing the statements. He estimates the cost is just 1 penny per customer. He says NorthWestern serves approximately 400,000 customers in western Montana. That means the recipe card cost per month is about $4,000, or $48,000 a year.

That's probably a drop in the bucket to NorthWestern, but boy howdy, it seems like a not-insignificant chunk of change to the average customer. Then again, what would we do without the secret to Grandma's fudgy brownies? They really do sound delicious.

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