Bismarck — Montana-Dakota Utilities, an electricity company that serves nearly 100,000 customers in North Dakota, proposed a rate hike on customers in western North Dakota Wednesday, Aug. 5.

The company is looking to apply a $3.35 monthly rate bump to help recoup $6.3 million in transmission project costs.

The North Dakota Public Service Commission ruled it would be "reasonable and prudent" for the company to apply the price bump at a commission meeting Wednesday. That decision marks a procedural milestone for MDU and opens a comment period on the proposal running until Sept. 19.

During that time, the state could choose to hold a public hearing on the issue.

"We're trying to balance keeping a company healthy financially with reliable, affordable electricity," said PSC Chairman Brian Kroshus. "It's a balancing act. We want stable, healthy companies, but we also want low, affordable rates."

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Mark Hanson, a spokesperson for MDU, said the company would not be able to implement the hike until after it retires two coal plants at its Heskett location north of Mandan. The rate change would appear as a line item on MDU customer bills.

MDU's North Dakota customer base is primarily concentrated in the western half of the state. The company serves both residential and corporate customers, and the rate increase would affect some 93,000 households.

In unrelated motions, the PSC also approved several MDU plans on Wednesday, greenlighting the company's proposal to retire the two coal units at Heskett Station, as well as plans to build a new gas plant at the same location. The commission said the proposed gas unit would be a reasonable project up to a cost of $68.7 million.

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