Montanans are very concerned that their power bill is going to go up, and they're also concerned that the grid could fail in the months ahead- especially as more unreliable power like wind and solar keeps getting put online in place of reliable sources like coal.

If you live in the Billings area, we have good news for you- at least if you are a member of Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative (YVEC). While Northwestern Energy is proposing double digit rate hikes for electricity for their customers in the state, the co-op serving the Billings area is not raising rates, and doesn't plan to anytime soon.

(By and large, Northwestern Energy serves the city, while the co-op serves the outlying areas)

Brandon Wittman is the CEO of Yellowstone Valley Electric Cooperative (YVEC). He joined us on "Montana Talks with Aaron Flint" on Wednesday morning.

Wittman: We've not had a rate increase for a very long time. Our last one was May of of 2011. So that's a pretty good run to this point. But we do not plan on having one in the near future either. Just the structure that we have, the fact number one that we're not for profit. We operate under the co-op business model. So if we do turn a profit at the end of the year, a margin, we return that to the members in the form of capital credit.

Wittman also says that the power supply is strong, even given the concerns facing the electric grid due to increased reliance on wind and solar, combined with additional demands due to electric vehicles.

Wittman: We have very solid power supply. We have two main sources. One is the Western Area Power Administration, which is hydro. That's about 15% of our power supply. The other 85% comes from another co-op, Basin Electric. They're headquartered in Bismarck. They have generation facilities in North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana, and Wyoming. Very diverse portfolio- everything from coal, to natural gas, to wind, solar, they even have one small nuclear plant. They serve in a nine state area. There's 140 electric co-ops that they serve just like ours. And they are actually having a bit of a rate decrease, a one mill decrease, which helps us tremendously. When it's 85% of your power, even just a whisker of decrease helps helps tremendously. So put all that together, and our rates are very stable and should be for the next at least 12 months.

Here's the full audio of our chat with YVEC's Brandon Wittman.


We'll catch up with other electric cooperatives from across Montana in the weeks ahead during the Montana Electric Cooperatives Association annual meeting in Great Falls.



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