The Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) has approved a rate increase of 28 percent over a year ago for NorthWestern Energy customers. It will become effective next month, however much of the approved increase has already been incorporated into customer bills, because of an interim rate increase granted by the PSC in September 2022.

The increase amounts to $100 million in increased revenues for NorthWestern Energy — $82 million in electricity revenues and $18 million in natural gas revenue. A portion of the rate increase is due to NorthWestern Energy’s increased property taxes, which the PSC cannot alter.

According to PSC legal counsel, 40% of the rate increase can be attributed to “flow-through” costs, including property taxes and market power purchases, which the company is forced to purchase when peak use exceeds the available production from its own power plants.

The escalating increase in costs of generation is, in part, attributable to the utility company’s federal mandate to shift to alternative energy sources and away from lower cost carbon based production.

A couple dozen people testified before the PSC saying the rate increase is unfair, especially for people on fixed incomes. Some of the utilities largest commercial customers opposed the increases, claiming that the commercial rates subsidize residential customers. Among those speaking in opposition to the proposed rate increase were representatives of organizations like the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC), which in the past has strongly advocated for more expensive alternative energy sources to reduce carbon emmissions.

In testimony before the PSC, MEIC and others, who have opposed it, were critical of NorthWestern Energy’s natural gas plant under construction at Laurel, however, none of the cost of building that plant is included in calculating this rate increase. NorthWestern Energy claims the plant is necessary to enable them to meet peak energy demand and avoid having to purchase high priced energy on the market, previous costs for which are included in this rate increase.

The last electrical rate increase NorthWestern Energy received was 2018, following a rate increase for natural gas in 2016.

Since their last rate increases, NorthWestern reported that it has invested $835 million into its electricity infrastructure and $257 million in its natural gas infrastructure.

Taking into account the inclusion of the interim rate in the bills, an average residential customers using 750-kilowatt hours per month will see an increase in their bill of about $8 or 7.6%.

Quietly growing and succeeding, step by step, in the education world, in Billings is the Billings Christian School (BCS) at 4519 Grand Avenue. And this fall it took another giant leap forward with the addition of Montana Bible College (MBC) which has moved to 1519 S. Shiloh Road, Billings, from Bozeman.

The addition of the college follows last year’s addition of a new high school on Shiloh Road.

Billings Christian School was launched in 1981 with 42 students. Today its K-12 enrollment is 400, and growing.

It was a long –term goal of the school to one day add a college, but amazingly that day came much, much sooner than anticipated, explained Matthew McDonnell, President of the Billings Christian School Foundation. 

Montana Bible College was finding it more and more difficult to remain in Bozeman because of the increasing cost of living and doing business there. Through mutual acquaintances, the two education centers began discussing the possibility of the college moving to Billings and sharing the same campus with the Billings Christian High School. This fall marks the beginning of the college’s first classes with a 52 student enrollment.

Ryan Ward is President of MBC, which hopes to soon have over a hundred student enrollment. McDonnell has no doubt that they will achieve that goal because “they do such a great job with staffing and being self-sustained.”

McDonnell is thoroughly pleased with what the college brings to BCS. Its proximity offers inspiration and encouragement to high school students on a daily basis, as well as an opportunity to fast track their education through high school classes that offer dual credits.

While the college is located on the same campus as the high school, the college students are being housed elsewhere while dorms are being built for next year’s students.

The real amazement is that the MBC addition follows so closely on the heels of BCS getting a high school, which in itself was a remarkable development. Faced with rapid growth, BCS Board members knew they had to expand their high school but it loomed as quite a daunting challenge.

When Yellowstone Bible College moved from their location on Shiloh Road, suddenly there sat a magnificent facility just waiting to be used. The problem was, because of its prime location, the 11 acres with three buildings and a chapel, was worth more without “all this stuff on it.”  But then something of a miracle happened, a donor stepped in and bought the property, making it available to the school for the next five years for $1 a year, with the goal that the school would be able to purchase it in five years.

“We did it in two,” said McDonnell, crediting the hard work of many people and the generosity of “parents and grandparents,” and the success of getting the school functioning on a business-like basis.

On every front, McDonnell is enthusiastic about what is happening at BCS. He says he wished he could have attended a school like BCS. He and his wife discovered BCS when they started investigating education options for their children. After becoming involved with BCS, it wasn’t long before McDonnell’s enthusiasm netted him the position as President of the school’s foundation which was established in 2005.

Under the direction of Dan Makowski, BCS serves some 40 different church denominations. It functions as a tax exempt corporation governed by an independent Board of Directors. 

Why has the school continued to grow? “Because of the quality of our teachers and the value of a Christian education,” said McDonnell. “Parents began to see that kids have a different value set with a Christian education.”. . .  and the school offers “more of a family setting” Parents are very much involved with the school on a daily basis.

Also, COVID played a significant role.

It seemed that the school was just getting its footing, explained McDonnell, when “the world shut down” because of COVID. The situation generated considerable concern that the school might not recover from the same setbacks that so many businesses and enterprises were confronting. But it turned out that just the opposite happened.

“COVID really showed the public some of the stuff that was happening in public schools. It unveiled that society was more morally bankrupt than they had realized, and that pushed many people to consider a Christian education.” They started looking at private schools and home schooling options.

Suddenly, Billings Christian School was enrolled to capacity and had “a huge waiting list.” The waiting list could have been even bigger than it was, said McDonnell, because when some people found out how long it was they didn’t even ask to be put on it.

At the beginning of COVID the school had 275 students enrolled, now they have over 400, with others on the waiting list. 

Anticipating further growth, Billings Christian School is currently focused on raising $2 million to help in adding a state-of –the art gymnasium and to upgrade their science and art rooms, the administration offices and to add four more classrooms. The over-all cost for all the additions is estimated at about $6 million.

It’s a daunting challenge but McDonnell is optimistic because of what the school has to offer families and belief it is what many are seeking. “We have to really focus on growing,” said McDonnell.

There is no pulling punches about Billings Christian School being a Christian school. It’s a firm stance that prohibits the school from getting any public funds, even though the parents are taxpaying citizens – and it disqualifies them for some grants. There have been instances in which they were encouraged to minimize their emphasize on teaching religion, but those “opportunities” have been flatly refused, said McDonnell.

The school is dually credited through the Association of Christian Schools International (ACSI) and COGNIA.

It is a member of the National Christian School Athletic Association – and in fact the school’s basketball team, The Warriors, won the national championship last year.

Offered in the high school are courses on Bible, English, mathematics, history, science, Spanish, fine arts, choir, orchestra, band, physical education and electives such as business, Christian Leadership, computer coding, robotics, STEM, home economics, elementary, aide, Financial Peace University, speech, debate, drama, yearbook, logic, internships and independent studies.

Montana Bible College, founded in 1987, is accredited by the Association for Biblical Higher Education Commission and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

MBC strives to make sure their students graduate debt free.  And, though MBC is eligible for Federal Title IV funding, they have chosen not to participate. “We wish to remain free from dependence on the government and free from the “strings” attached to government money,” states their website.

Besides a a Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies with five emphasis, students may obtain degrees in business administration, communications, criminal justice, healthcare management, marketing and sports management.

By Brett Rowland, The Center Square

The IRS announced new enforcement initiatives  to crack down on 1,600 millionaires and 75 large companies it said owe hundreds of millions in unpaid taxes.  IRS Commissioner Daniel Werfel said the agency will use Inflation Reduction Act funding to focus on high-income earners, partnerships, large corporations and promoters. He said the IRS won’t increase audit rates for those earning less than $400,000. “This new compliance push makes good on the promise of the Inflation Reduction Act to ensure the IRS holds our wealthiest filers accountable to pay the full amount of what they owe,” Werfel said in a statement.

The IRS will prioritize high-income cases. The High Wealth, High Balance Due Taxpayer Field Initiative will take aim at taxpayers with total positive income above $1 million who have more than $250,000 in recognized tax debt. The agency also will have dozens of revenue officers focusing on these high-end collection cases in fiscal year 2024 and the agency is working to expand that effort by contacting about 1,600 taxpayers who owe hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes, according to the agency. 

The IRS further plans to expand a pilot program that uses artificial intelligence to take a closer look at the 75 largest partnerships in the U.S. That is expected to start by the end of the month. On average, such partnerships have more than $10 billion in assets.

October is Montana Manufacturing month. Manufacturing Day is Oct. 6.

This is a time to be amazed. Few people fully realize the depth and breadth of manufacturing, the skills and outstanding production of people in the state. Almost every town in the Montana has some kind of manufacturing happening that sustains its economy.

The Montana Manufacturing Extension Center (MMEC) has announced that throughout the state manufacturers in many cities have events planned to spotlight what kind of manufacturing is happening in their own communities.

In Billings, October 12 has been declared Montana Manufacturing Career Day.  Wood’s Pow’r Grip and other manufacturers from all around the Billings area will be hosting tour groups for hundreds of local students, followed by a sponsored lunch and career fair for all students at the Billings Depot. For more information contact Katie Whitmoyer at Wood’s Powr-Grip ( or Lane Gobbs at MMEC ( for more information.

Also on October 24 in Billings the Montana Manufacturer of the Year Award will be presented at the Montana Chamber of Commerce’s Annual Meeting during the “Oro y Plata” Business Awards.

The Kalispell Chamber has organized community, student, and job seeker tours of manufacturing facilities around the Flathead Valley from October 2 – 18. 

On October 5 in Missoula, MMEC and local members will be hosting Manufacturing Day in Missoula with facility tours in the morning for school groups.  In the afternoon there will be a Manufacturing Expo at Missoula College, where students and the public can visit the numerous local manufacturers in one place.

October 5 in Lewistown is MFG Day at Spika. Spika is expecting about 600 students from Lewistown Public Schools 2nd, 5th, 8th, and high school shop classes as well as other area schools to attend tours and STEM activities. The older kids will have a small welding project that they can take home, and the younger kids will do a STEM craft project. The Great Falls College welding program will be bringing down their welding simulator for everyone to practice on.

October 5 is Trades & Technologies Day at Highlands College. Highlands College hosts an open house” for students to tour the campus, see technology demonstrations, talk to instructors, and learn about programs of study. 

October 6 in Bozeman there will be MFG Day tours. Multiple manufacturing companies around the Gallatin Valley (West Paw, Towhaul, Spark R&D just to mention a few) plan to open their doors for facility tours for both student groups and the public.

Also in Bozeman on October 23 and 24 respectively, The Montana World Affairs Council will host EconoQuest and Photoni-CON.  Gallatin College will host Photoni-CON (a photonics and manufacturing expo) on the afternoon October 23 at the Gallatin County Fairgrounds. 

Scot Chisholm developed what was to become Classy, a peer-to-peer crowd funding software platform. In 2020, Classy merged with GoFundMe, and Chisholm stepped down from his role as CEO to become a strategic advisor for the company. Since Chisholm has gained most of his CEO start-up experience through trial and error, he plans to pass on his knowledge  to other budding entrepreneurs.

An increase of West Nile virus activity was reported in the state. A positive infection has been reported in a Hill County horse. Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services reported the confirmed case, along with three confirmed human cases, in Dawson, Rosebud and Yellowstone counties, along with another case confirmed in a horse in Pondera County. All cases were hospitalized for their illnesses.

Belgrade’s Bootstrap Ranch, the sole facility in Montana that rehabs severely brain-injured adults, was forced to close last week. In May, the nonprofit’s board of directors decided that the Belgrade ranch would close by Aug. 15.The ranch had three hard-to-place clients who were finally placed by the facility.

According to Lee Enterprise newspapers NorthWestern Energy customers have come out strongly against the utility’s energy supply plan during the first three stops of a listening session tour with state utility regulators. Customers testifying in Helena and Great Falls and Billings told Montana’s Public Service Commission, that the state’s largest monopoly utility needed to pivot away from power plants burning coal and natural gas..

Two months after a railroad bridge collapse sent some carloads of oil products plunging into Montana’s Yellowstone River, the cleanup workers are gone. The railroad responsible, Montana Rail Link, in conjunction with federal and state officials has halted most cleanup work and stopped actively looking for contaminated sites. More than half of the 48,000 gallons (180,000 liters) of molten petroleum asphalt that spilled has been recovered. Downstream intakes for drinking water and irrigation reported no impacts.

The federal government will be taking over the security at Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport on October 8. With heavy foot traffic, the airport has decided it’s time to restart its use of the Transportation Security Administration for airport security. Surpassing two million passengers in 2022, Bozeman Yellowstone has seen growth in traffic. The current staffing shortages have caused frustration with long lines and delays during security.

In 2004, the Forest Service petitioned for the OTO’s Dude Ranch listing on the National Register of Historic Places and, over the past few decades, the agency has poured money into making sure the buildings stay standing. Now dudes have come back to the OTO for the first time in over half a century. For the past two years, the Arizona-based True Ranch Collection has hosted a “pop-up” tourist ranch, with the proceeds going to the Forest Service. But the future of the OTO hangs in the balance as the pop-up ranch’s permit expired this year. Now, the Forest Service must decide what’s next for the iconic 3,263-acre property.

Ben and Madison Miller arrived in Sidney on January 2021, as Ben took a job as associate pastor of the Sidney Lutheran Brethren Church. Two and a half years later, Madison Miller was offered a job as the chief executive officer (CEO) of the Boys and Girls Club of the MonDak. She started work on July 28. Originally from Tum Water, Washington, with a population of 30,000 Miller said it was a transition for them both. Miller is working with the former CEO who is staying on as a staff member in research and development.

By Chris Woodward, The Center Square

A federal judge has issued a preliminary injunction blocking a plan to build a water diversion pipeline in southwest Montana meant to aid Arctic grayling, a rare species of freshwater fish.

District Judge Donald W. Molloy issued the injunction this week in a lawsuit brought by Wilderness Watch and other environmental groups against the U.S. Fish & Wilderness Service and the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks. The pipeline is meant to divert cold water to the indigenous fish population that’s dwindled in the Red Rock Lakes Wilderness area.

The Missoula-based Wilderness Watch argued the water diversion pipeline within the wilderness area is a “blatant violation of the Wilderness Act, which prohibits the agency from intentionally modifying Wilderness habitat.”

Molloy wrote in the injunction that “in light of the Wilderness Act’s strict requirements, the mere possibility that the proposed action may aid in Arctic grayling conservation is not enough to create necessity.”

Montana Trout Unlimited, a fish conservation group that supports the project, called the ruling “a blow to the grayling, the spirit of collaborative conservation and Wilderness character.”

“This delay and its proponents stand to have far greater negative impacts to this Wilderness ecosystem by risking the disappearance of one of the most unique and iconic species than the short and modest construction efforts implementing the project in a Wilderness area would entail,” the group said.

For the first time in years, drought figures have decreased across the board. This wet season has significantly lowered the chances of wildfires this year.

QuoteWizard, in analyzing drought data in at-risk wildfire states in advising wildfire insurance companies, determined that severe drought has decreased by 88% in Montana since 2022.

They have reported that, even with the decrease, 8 percent of Montana is experiencing a severe drought in 2023 and 29 percent of the state faces an extreme wildfire risk. The state is actually at the top of most-at-risk states for fires – followed by Idaho, New Mexico, Oregon, Colorado, Texas, California, Wyoming, Utah and Washington.

Nationally, drought area decreased for all of the states most at risk of a wildfire.

Their report stated, “More than 11.2 million properties were at risk of wildfires in 2022, and most wildfire-prone states are facing severe droughts. So far this year, nearly half of states that were previously experiencing severe drought dropped by 100%, including California. Montana is most at risk of wildfires, with 29% of the state facing extreme risk, even though its drought risk decreased by 88% since last year.”

Despite the conclusion of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) that air quality measures are adequate in the operation of NorthWestern Energy’s Laurel Generating Plant, a Thirteenth Judicial District Court has ruled that the DEQ’s issuance of a permit in 2021 was unlawful. The decision, made by District Court Judge Michael Moses, brings into question the air quality assessments done by DEQ specialists and invalidates the permit the state agency issued. That means construction must be halted on the Yellowstone County Generating Station near Laurel, which the utility company claims is essential to meet the future energy needs of Yellowstone County.

NorthWestern Energy responded saying they will seek an immediate stay to allow continued construction, and will appeal the decision. Company spokespeople noted that while the District Court found only two limited issues with Montana DEQ’s analysis, “… the court unfortunately took the extreme step to vacate the air permit.”

Neighbors of the proposed project, called the “Thiel Road Coalition”,who have been organized in part by the Montana Environmental Information Center, (MEIC) say they are concerned about the plant’s impacts on their health, property, businesses and the Yellowstone River.

Earthjustice represents MEIC and Sierra Club in the lawsuit, in conjunction with four citizens, who filed suit on October 21, 2021, challenging the permit for NorthWestern Energy’s proposed 175-megawatt methane gas-fired power plant located next to the CHS Refinery at Laurel. The suit claims the DEQ’s evaluations did not consider the plant’s potential “greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate impacts in Montana,”

 “We are very concerned that this project will harm people who live near the proposed plant,” said local resident, Steve Krum. “Every time we have raised concerns about the impacts this plant will have on the quality of life of the neighbors and the Yellowstone River, those concerns have been dismissed.”

In a press release, NorthWestern Energy stated that it “appreciates that Montana District Court Judge Michael Moses supported the majority of the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s air quality permit…”  issued to NorthWestern Energy “after significant review and analysis for construction of the Yellowstone County Generating Station.”

In its press release, MEIC stated, “The Court’s ruling critiqued DEQ for failing to analyze the gas plant’s greenhouse gas emissions and associated climate impacts in Montana, as well as the plant’s impacts on our quality of life.” MEIC further stated that “if constructed, the Laurel Generating Station would emit at least 769,706 tons per year of climate-harming greenhouse gasses. This is equivalent to the annual emissions of 167,327 passenger vehicles.”

The Montana DEQ issued the air quality permit to NorthWestern Energy on Sept. 8, 2021, “After significant review and analysis,” said NorthWestern Energy Vice President of Supply and Montana Government Affairs John Hines, who oversees environmental compliance and stewardship. Hines expressed his concerns saying, “This ruling appears to require new criteria to be analyzed and jeopardizes reliable service for our Montana customers during critical times when customer energy demand is high, the coldest nights and the hottest days, typically times when renewable resources are generating little or no energy.  Our air permit was reviewed and approved by the DEQ using standards that have been in effect for many years. ..We will work with the DEQ to determine the path forward.”

MEIC said in its press release, that the DEQ violated the Montana Environmental Policy Act by issuing the permit “without fully evaluating the environmental consequences of plant construction and operation.”

“My business, my family and my home will be directly impacted by NorthWestern’s proposed project. We have raised our concerns every step of the way, and state and local governments keep ignoring us,” said Kasey Felder, a landowner, small business owner and member of the Thiel Road Coalition. “We were worried we would get a ‘Braveheart’ ending to this story.  It’s a relief to know the scales of justice are still in balance, and the little guy can be heard.”

“For too long it’s felt like a David versus Goliath battle. I’m so tired of the government and NorthWestern ignoring us. We live here. We have raised concerns time and time again about the impacts of this plant,” said Carah Ronan, farmer, small business owner and member of Thiel Road Coalition.

John Hines pointed out that NorthWestern Energy relies on the energy market “more than any of our peer energy companies in the region. The region faces an increasing probability of near-term deficits in its energy supply during peak load conditions, and the chance of shortages is expected to grow unless the region invests in new capacity, resources always-available to generate energy in all weather conditions.”

“If it was operating today,” he said, “NorthWestern Energy’s Montana customers could have avoided at least $4.7 million in market purchases from Dec. 20 to 26, 2022 during the Arctic cold front when record low temperatures were set in several areas of Montana.

“The Yellowstone County Generating Station natural gas plant is a critical part of a balanced and affordable portfolio that includes renewables and generation that is available on-demand, 24/7,” said Hines. “A balanced portfolio is essential to support the responsible transition to cleaner generation resources without compromising energy service reliability.”

Although left unidentified, the MEIC press release stated “…lower-cost clean energy resources are available.”

During peak- use NorthWestern Energy needs 1500 megawatts of power. They can generate only 750 megawatts, which forces the utility to go out into the market to purchase as much as 50 percent of the power needed to meet demand. One-third of the power NorthWestern Energy provides to the state is consumed in the Billings area – about 450 megawatts.

As the public demands more “clean energy” from alternative resources, reliance on wind and solar energy is becoming greater, but those energy sources need a dependable back up for “when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine.”

The Laurel site is 36- acres purchased from CHS. The property is adjacent to a NorthWestern Energy sub-station and transmission lines, which are being enlarged to accept the energy that is generated.

The $250 million natural gas plant will generate 175 megawatts of electricity, operating reciprocating internal combustion engines. The Laurel Generation Station is projected to be operational by the winter of 2023-24.

Chicago recorded 697 total homicides in 2022, far more than any other city in the United States, but New Orleans had the highest murder rate per capita, according to a new report from a nonprofit research group. 

Chicago had more total homicides in 2022 than Philadelphia (516), New York City (438), Houston (435) and Los Angeles (382), which rounded out the top five, according to a report from Wirepoints, an Illinois-based research and news organization that surveyed 2022 crime data from 75 of the largest U.S. cities.

New Orleans had the highest homicide rate in the nation in 2022 with 74.3 homicides per 100,000 people. It was followed by St. Louis (68.2), Baltimore (58.1), Detroit (48.9) and Memphis (45.9), Wirepoints found.

The nation’s lowest homicide rates were concentrated in the West, according to the report. The cities with the fewest homicides out of the 75 surveyed were Plano, Texas, and Gilbert, Arizona. Plano reported 1 homicide and Gilbert reported 3. 

Samuel Stebbins, 24/7 Wall St, The Center Square

The United States has long been considered among the most innovative countries in the world – and America’s status as a global hub of innovation is partially attributable to public funding of research and development. The federal government spent nearly $138 billion on R&D in 2020 alone.

The private sector is also an engine of innovation, from companies on the Fortune 500 to small startups. Amazon, for example, spent over $62 billion on R&D in fiscal 2022.

Several key indicators can reveal how much of the innovation that takes place in the U.S. is concentrated in a certain place. According to personal finance website, WalletHub, which created a weighted index of 22 measures indicative of innovative capacity, Montana ranks as the 16th least innovative state in the country.

Montana’s ranking on the innovation index is reflected, in part, by employment in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) fields as a share of total employment. According to May 2021 data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, STEM jobs account for 5.7% of all employment in the state, the 21st lowest share among states.

All innovation rankings in this story are from Wallet Hub’s report Most & Least Innovative States.