Eastern Montana electric bills could rise $178 a year to cover the costs of expensive pollution controls that may have been unnecessary.
At issue are pollution controls installed by Montana Dakota Utilities to comply with the federal Mercury Air Toxics Standards, or MATS. MDU spent millions on the upgrades, and like a lot of coal-fired power plant owners, faulted the Environmental Protection Agency for not giving more consideration to the cost of compliance.
That’s exactly the kind of steep expense the U.S. Supreme Court cited in July when it faulted the EPA for not considering the expense of mercury pollution controls. A lower court is now weighing how the EPA must factor in MATS costs when determining what can be expected from power plants.
The ruling came too late to benefit MDU customers, said Mark Hanson, utility spokesman. The MATS still exist, even if the EPA is grappling with a way to balance cost with enforcement. MDU is determined to comply by year’s end.
“The rule is still in effect. We still have a deadline to meet.” Hanson said. “It’s tough to run your business when you don’t know what the rules are.”
The construction bill for MDU’s pollution controls is substantial. At the coal-fired Big Stone power plant in South Dakota, upgrades to address pollution haze and mercury cost $348 million, according to records filed with Montana’s Public Service Commission, the state’s utility regulator. MDU has a 22.7 percent share in Big Stone and is passing its share of the bill onto consumers with rate increases. There’s also $16 million in mercury pollution controls planned for the Lewis and Clark power plant in Sidney.What is most interesting about these rate increases: these "taxes" are regressive in the sense that rich and poor alike face the same rate increase, on a percentage basis. Granted, wealthy folks may use a whole bunch more electricity charging their Teslas and watching multiple big-screen televisions in their McMansions, but the fact is, even the folks living on paychecks, month-to-month, will see a significant increase in their monthly bills.
And the folks most unable to afford the higher monthly rates will still vote for Hillary in 2016.