BILLINGS – As customers brace for a possible rise in their energy bills, those with Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative are cautioning their customers to hold off on the panic.
That’s because energy prices for members won’t be increasing, according to co-op CEO Brandon Wittman.
“We have customers saying...what's going on?” said Wittman.
And his response is this: “We haven't raised rates since May 2011.”
The questions come on the heels of NorthWestern Energy asking the Public Service Commission to approve a 15.9 percent increase starting Oct. 1.
The rate hike is just a proposal, but NorthWestern Energy is also looking at a more permanent increase coming within the next year.
And it’s really no surprise as to why. The price of everything has gone up due to inflation with the current rate for inflation teetering around 9.1 percent.
“It is hard. Yeah, it is extremely hard, and we feel that,” said Wittman.
But he says that’s why they are so eager to get this message out to its members.
“We have not left ourselves exposed to the market as other utilities do,” said Wittman. “Some including NorthWestern, they buy up to maybe 30% of their power on the open market. And obviously, that's very volatile.”
Like everyone else, NorthWestern Energy is feeling the pinch of rising costs too.
“We understand that it's incredibly tough for customers right now,” said Crystal Lail with the utility company. “Pricing on everything is going up. And importantly, we want customers to know that we have resources to help them.”
But Wittman says that for Yellowstone Valley Electric it’s a little different because the co-op is not for profit.
“Our rates are stable, very stable,” he said. “We have no plans to raise rates this year or next. We can sustain some of this and there's a little bit of a cushion there and we've been able to prove that by not changing rates now for 11 years.”
Yellowstone Valley Electric serves roughly 22,000 meters, and Wittman says that number is growing at a rate of 3 percent.
The good news is really just for co-op members, so Wittman says he feels for those NorthWestern Energy customers who are still impacted by the potential of these rate hikes.
“We're talking something in the neighborhood of $40 a month. It's a lot. I mean $40 a month, 12 months a year, that's, you know, that's a lot of money. So I do feel for them,” he said.
And NorthWestern Energy customers should know the increase isn’t yet final. The PSC has to approve the proposed increase, so for now, it’s just a proposal.