NorthWestern Corp.'s $900M purchase of 11 Montana hydroelectric dams completed Tuesday

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BUTTE, Montana — NorthWestern Corp. announced its $900 million purchase of 11 hydroelectric facilities in Montana from PPL Montana was completed on Tuesday.

The company's 342,000 electric customers will see a 5.2 percent increase in their power bills. The increase takes effect immediately and totals about $4.20 per month for a typical residential customer. PPL Montana's 81 employees are now working for NorthWestern.

"The dams that are so much a part of Montana's environment and heritage are now dedicated to serve our Montana customers, at prices based on the cost of providing service, not on the western power market," NorthWestern CEO Bob Rowe said in a statement. "Our local river communities are assured that we will continue to be a responsible and professional operator that values safety, community involvement and environmental stewardship. And, we're looking forward to being even more visible in these communities, which we already serve."

The Montana Public Service Commission, which regulates the state's utilities, approved the purchase plan in September.

Experts with the Montana Consumer Counsel had wanted more of the costs and risk placed on the company and its shareholders. Bob Nelson of the state-consumer advocacy office said in September he thought the costs could have been reduced.

John Hines, a vice president at NorthWestern, said another benefit of the purchase is that the company is now "much greener" and that it puts it in a good position to face new U.S. Environmental Protection Agency regulations. "With this acquisition, we believe our customers are well positioned given the uncertainty of what's to come from potentially tougher regulations," Hines said.

PPL Montana bought the dams on the Missouri and Clark Fork rivers from the former Montana Power Co. during deregulation in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Montana Power sold its transmission lines to NorthWestern Energy and became Touch America, building a fiber optics network. That company filed for bankruptcy in 2003.

NorthWestern expects to transfer ownership of Kerr Dam to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes in September 2015.

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