Saturday, June 20, 2009

Shame on Northwestern ...

Yesterday's post mentioned Bozeman's news story of the year -- the explosion last March that destroyed half a block of Main Street businesses. The explosion was apparently caused by a natural gas leak coming from a broken pipeline in the alley. The pipeline was owned by Northwestern Energy, the state's major public utility, and the incident has cast a very unwanted spotlight on them over the past few months.

A couple of decades ago, the state's utility provider was Montana Power, a local company with a network of mostly hydroelectric plants that provided power cheaply and efficiently. And then two things happened: the state decided that free enterprise should be king, and deregulated the company; and Montana Power got greedy, and bet the farm on a speculative expansion into high tech. Not long after that, of course, everything collapsed in a spectacular fashion. Soon the company was bankrupt, and investigative reporters from 60 Minutes were chasing its executives through the back alleys of Butte.

Much of the old Montana Power ended up being sold to an unimpressive out-of-state provider called Northwestern Energy, and now our rates are a lot higher and there's a fair amount of mistrust all around. And of course it's worse in Bozeman these days, both because of the explosion itself and because the utility's response to it was seen by many to be less than supportive. So you're seeing signs like this scattered through our downtown nowadays:


  1. This WAS a damn shame...and I don't know half the politics involved. Death and destruction of this magnitude is such a tragedy, some respect should be paid without having to demand it.

  2. Yeah, Montana had more than its share of tragic fires last spring ... remember those big ones in Whitehall and Miles City, too. But this one struck closest to my heart.

    And like a lot of Montanans, I really miss the old Montana Power. The way that the legislature messed with our public utilities system was just utterly unconscionable ...