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The DOJ delivers the Comey memos to Congress. Also on our rundown: More evidence that rent prices are out of reach in many markets; Wisconsin counties brace for sulfide mining; and the Earth Day focus this weekend in North Dakota is on recycling.

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Public Can Comment on Utility's Proposed Rate Hike

Montana-Dakota Utilities is proposing to raise its rates for third time in four years. (Bilfinger SE/Flickr)
Montana-Dakota Utilities is proposing to raise its rates for third time in four years. (Bilfinger SE/Flickr)
October 23, 2017

BISMARCK, N.D. -- Public input sessions will be held this week for Montana-Dakota Utilities' proposed rate hike, which would affect about 100,000 North Dakotans.

MDU is asking the Public Service Commission for permission to raise its natural gas rate 5.4 percent. It would be the third increase in four years, and raise the fixed-rate charge to more than $22 a month. When it started this process, the rate was $9.

AARP North Dakota intervened in the rate case last week. Mike Chaussee, the group's advocacy director, said homeowners would shoulder the bulk of this increase, which could hit older North Dakotans hardest.

"For a lot of us, $2, $3 doesn't matter,” Chaussee said. “But a lot of people live on fixed incomes, and a few dollars here and there does make a big difference."

One-in-three older North Dakotans relies on Social Security as their only source of income.

The rate hike would boost revenue for MDU in North Dakota by nearly $6 million. The company has said the hike is needed to maintain its pipelines.

Public input sessions are scheduled for this Tuesday and Wednesday in Bismarck, Devils Lake, Dickinson, Minot, Valley City and Williston.

AARP's intervening status means it has a seat at the table at the formal hearings in February. Chaussee said the group will also be holding briefings before the sessions. He said it's important to understand that ratepayers can't do anything to change an increase in the fixed-rate charge.

"When we talk about fixed costs, what we mean is that's a portion of the bill that MDU would send to you that is flat, before you've even used any natural gas at all,” he explained. "So, you can't control that portion of your bill by turning down your thermostat."

Chaussee said AARP is also concerned that a daily surcharge buried in the proposal could open the door to fast-tracking future rate increases.

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - ND