PPL to Montana: y’all good? 

Newsflash: Montanans love living here, but we get hungry sometimes since we can’t eat the scenery. We think a clean environment and development can coexist and we want our government to do better at making that happen. We’re worried about meth, and we like tourism. We hate our energy bills.

Slow news days tend to bring surveys like this one—commissioned by Pennsylvania Power and Light Montana (PPL) and released March 28—bubbling up to the surface. But more interesting than the questions asked and the percentages revealed (who wouldn’t guess that eight out of 10 Montanans think the state’s natural beauty is “very important”?) are the questions that went unasked.

PPL, which supplies much of Montana’s energy through its hydroelectric and coal-fired power plants, didn’t need to commission a professional survey to find out that Montanans aren’t thrilled about rising energy costs. The study, for which Roper Public Affairs Group interviewed more than 1,000 Montanans in December 2005, found that 63 percent believe energy companies are unnecessarily increasing prices and reaping higher profits, while 58 percent think rising energy costs are a “very serious” problem for Montana’s future and another 31 percent consider it a “somewhat serious” problem. David Hoffman, PPL’s external affairs manager, say those numbers are no surprise, and largely attributes them to national perceptions of companies like Enron and soaring oil prices. And it’s true, they aren’t a surprise; that’s what makes them safe to release on slow news days.

PPL’s stated objective for the survey was to “gain insight into Montana residents’ opinions, hopes and concerns regarding the quality of life and state of affairs in Montana.” We can only wonder whether this objective might have been better served through more specific, more meaningful questions, like: What do Montanans think about PPL’s long-running protest of $35 million in property taxes, which has left county coffers that much poorer; or how about the running dispute federal regulators are trying to settle between PPL and consumer advocates who argue that PPL enjoys monopoly pricing on power in Montana?

Hey, it’s a slow news day: just asking.

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