Courtesy Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes

Salish Kootenai Dam Challenged by Montana Public Service Commission

Jack McNeel

The Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) referred to the acquisition of the former Kerr Dam by the Salish Kootenai Tribes as “hasty and politically motivated,” and asked the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to hold hearings allowing the public to comment. The transfer of ownership had taken place in early September and this action by PSC came just two days before the deadline of October 1 to request a hearing. The Montana PSC is composed of five Republican members.

RELATED: Salish-Kootenai Dam: First Tribally Owned Hydro-Electric Dam in US

An earlier request by two Republican senators, one a current senator and the other a previous senator, was submitted the day before the dam officially changed hands. That request was immediately denied by the judge hearing the request.

Eric Sell, Communication Director for Montana PSC, told ICTMN that politics was not a factor in their decision to ask FERC to hold additional hearings. “It’s certainly not taking a stance one way or the other on the licensing of Energy Keepers.” Energy Keepers is the tribally owned company responsible for operating the dam. “Our concern here is the transparency process and that those who have questions or concerns have the opportunity to raise those questions and concerns and seek answers. I don’t think there’s any opposition to tribes or tribal rights. It’s simply a matter of FERC seeking the transparency of the process.”

The tribes have been operating the dam, now named Salish Kootenai Dam, and power plant since they acquired the property on September 5. “All is going good,” Brian Lipscomb said. “We’ve been providing power and selling power to the wholesale market, providing it to our customers.” Lipscomb is CEO for Energy Keepers.

Lipscomb commented, “The PSC has appealed the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission decision to establish Energy Keepers as a co-licensee which is a little perplexing to us given the fact we met with the PSC at least twice. We provided them extensive information on how we intend to operate this facility and that we’re not regulated by the PSC. We’re an independent power producer producing and selling power to the wholesale energy market and we’re regulated by the market, not by the PSC.”

Lipscomb pointed out that Montana has many other independent power producers which are not regulated by the PSC. “We don’t see similar actions against them so we’re a little perplexed by it all.” He added that they intend to make comments to FERC but those comments are still in the making but when filed with FERC they will become public.

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