The Montana Public Service Commission voted 3-2 Tuesday to disallow costs related to a 2013 outage of Colstrip Unit 4 to be passed on to Northwestern Energy’s customers. PSC Commissioner Travis Kavulla explains:

“NorthWestern didn’t take steps to limit the risk of major damage to it’s power plant by insisting on some pretty common sense tests,” said Kavulla. “In my view, NorthWestern just expected consumers to bear the risk of those failures and to me that is inappropriate and not very business like. In the end I think the commission’s decision is one that really insists that Northwestern act like a business and take responsibility for the property that it after all owned.”

The decision means that rate payers will likely begin to see refunds in the near future. Kavulla says this decision by the PSC could result in higher standards being set.

“Once you let NorthWestern buy back power plants and put the cots for whatever they have paid for them on to consumers, what do you expect from the utility in terms of operating those facilities,” Kavulla asked. “I think the PSC here has made clear that if NorthWestern is going to be allowed to buy power plants like this we expect them to operate them prudently.”

Commissioners Kirk Bushman and Bob Lake voted in the minority; both were not entirely convinced that NorthWestern acted “imprudently”. NorthWestern spent an estimated $8.2 million in electricity market purchases following the outage.