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North Dakota PSC delays power line decision, OKs design of MDU rate increase

BISMARCK - The state Public Service Commission on Wednesday delayed action on a controversial plan to run about 200 miles of high-voltage power lines across part of western North Dakota, including the study area of an 1864 battle between American...

BISMARCK - The state Public Service Commission on Wednesday delayed action on a controversial plan to run about 200 miles of high-voltage power lines across part of western North Dakota, including the study area of an 1864 battle between American Indians and Army soldiers.

Commissioners also approved the design of a natural gas rate increase for Montana-Dakota Utilities in a 2-1 vote that had PSC Chairman Brian Kalk siding with the AARP in opposing how the increase was structured.

A decision on Basin Electric Power Cooperative's proposed transmission line was held over until the PSC's next meeting at the request of Commissioner Julie Fedorchak.

"I'm still deliberating and reviewing information, and I'm not ready to vote," she said.

Under PSC policy, a commissioner who doesn't hold the portfolio on an agenda item can have it held over for one meeting, PSC Chairman Brian Kalk said.

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Kalk holds the portfolio on Basin Electric's proposed 345-kilovolt power line, which would run from its Antelope Valley power plant near Beulah to a substation near Tioga to help meet growing demand for power in western North Dakota's oil and gas producing region.

The commission's next regular meeting is April 23.

Under the approved rate design for MDU, the utility's residential customers will pay $17.51 per month in customer charges. That's an average increase of $2.17 per month, though most customers won't see their bills increase because they've been paying an interim rate hike since Nov. 17.

However, customers may notice the difference in the breakdown of charges on their bills. MDU wanted to double the fixed charge to residential customers from about $9 to $18 and to do away with a separate distribution delivery charge. The AARP testified against such a large flat-rate increase, urging the PSC instead to land roughly in the middle at a fixed charge of $13.60.

Kalk said he agreed with that approach.

Commissioners had already approved a rate increase in December that allowed MDU to increase revenues by 4 percent, or $4.25 million. But how that would be collected from customers wasn't decided until Wednesday.

The commission ultimately approved a $15-per-month fixed charge, with the remainder of the customer charge coming in the form of a distribution delivery charge. Fedorchak and Randy Christmann voted in favor of the rate design, and Kalk voted against it.

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