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Billings-area electric co-op rates compare well, at average usage, CEO says

Posted at 11:38 AM, Mar 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-16 23:31:25-04

Residential electric rates for one of Montana’s largest rural cooperatives compare well to NorthWestern Energy, when measured at the co-op customers’ average usage, says the co-op’s CEO.

“We compete very well, actually,” Yellowstone Valley Electric Co-op CEO Brandon Wittman told MTN News. “So, is it fair to compare? It is, at the correct usage.”

In a story last month, MTN News compared the residential electric rates charged by Montana’s largest utility, NorthWestern Energy, to other major utilities in the region.

The story based the comparison on a monthly average consumption of 750 kilowatt hours. It also mentioned the rates of Montana’s two largest electric co-ops: Flathead Electric and Yellowstone Valley Electric.

At that level of consumption, NorthWestern customers pay $91 for a monthly bill, while Yellowstone Valley customers pay $103.

But Wittman said the average Yellowstone Valley customer consumes about twice that much in a month – 1,571 kilowatt hours.

At that amount, a Yellowstone Valley customer’s monthly bill is about $184, compared to $187 for NorthWestern Energy. Yellowstone Valley residential rates are lowered at higher rates of consumption, so the more a customer uses, the lower his or her bill will be, compared to NorthWestern, whose rates stay the same, regardless of consumption levels.

Wittman said Yellowstone Valley customers tend to use more electricity because they often don’t have access to natural gas, which is used by many NorthWestern customers to heat their homes and water-heaters.

“In most homes, heating and cooling and water-heating are the biggest users (of power) in the home,” he said. “The water-heater is a game-changer, if they have an electric water-heater that’s a high user.”

Yellowstone Valley Electric serves about 21,000 customers in rural areas within an approximate 50-mile radius of Billings. It gets its power from Basin Electric Cooperative and the federal Western Area Power Administration.

Wittman also noted that Yellowstone Valley Electric hasn’t raised its electric rates since 2011, while still sustaining a steady level of customer growth.