What a great day it is to celebrate the magic of the free market and the liberation of deregulation! The Public Service Commission voted to allow Northwest energy to buy the power generating dams in Montana from PPL. This will make the second time Montana’s rate payers get to purchase the exact same assets resulting in the highest rates for electricity in the region! Man, if that doesn’t get you excited about deregulation, I don’t know what will.
This fiasco goes back to the halcyon days of the mid 1990s when Montana state government was totally controlled by Republicans. Marc Racicot, who later cashed in as a D.C. lobbyist for (surprise) energy companies, was the Governor. Current Stevensville Legislator Fred Thomas was also an ambitious legislator in those days, and was the rising star of the Montana GOP.
In 1997, Senator Fred and Governor Marc believed that any regulation was bad and that the free market system was the cure all for whatever ailed us. So, they, together with the executives of the Montana Power Company, decided to deregulate Montana Power so it could sell its assets and try to make some quick money as a telecom company. Montana Power then sold its dams, which had been built by ratepayer money, to a Pennsylvania firm, PPL. Of course, the consumers were told that the magic of the free market system and competition would make energy rates plummet. Except, the result for ratepayers was the opposite, rates skyrocketed. Then, the telecom company went bankrupt in 2003 and shareholders got 29 cents a share, down from $65 a share at the time of deregulation.
Now, in a magnificent victory for the Republican mantra of the infallibility of the free market and deregulation, we Montana rate payers get to pay $870 million for the same dams that we had already paid for once. Sure, everyone in Montana has been paying out the nose for this debacle since 1997 and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future, but at least Marc Racicot got to move to D.C. where he doesn’t have to pay these rates, and he got rich. And really, isn’t that what the Republican ideal is? A few getting rich off the backs of millions?