BISMARCK — Montana Dakota Utilities made its case to hike rates for North Dakota customers Friday, Oct. 16, during a hearing in which state regulators also fielded input from ratepayers concerned about the timing of an increase during the pandemic.

Earlier this year, the utility provider, which serves more than 90,000 customers in the western part of North Dakota, proposed a rate increase of $3.35 per month, or just over $40 a year for most customers. Following push-back from some customers, the North Dakota Public Service Commission opted to hold an informal hearing.

"The timing obviously with the current pandemic situation is obviously less than ideal to see a jump of the cost in anything," said PSC Chair Brian Kroshus. "I think we need to be cognizant that these are challenging times."

MDU is hoping to recover more than $15 million dollars in costs related to transmission projects and a significant revenue drop from electricity grid operators over the last year.

If approved, the rate increase would appear as a "rider," or additional line item on customer's bills. Since 2016, the MDU rider has fluctuated by an average of 14 cents per month. But the more significant bump of several dollars prompted questions from some customers and was called "unjust and unreasonable" in a letter submitted to the commission by the North Dakota chapter of the AARP.

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During the hearing, the commission fielded calls from the AARP's state director, Josh Askvig, and several ratepayers who expressed concerns about the timing and fairness of MDU’s plan to increase North Dakota rates to help cover costs for transmission projects in other states.

Commissioners raised the possibility of spreading MDU's rate increase over two years, rather than 12 months, or deferring the charge by a year.

MDU has proposed that their rate increase go into effect Nov. 1. The commission requested that the company submit additional information on the possibility of spreading or deferring charges, and plans to review the case further next week.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Adam Willis, a Report for America corps member, at awillis@forumcomm.com.