Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Beartooth Co-Op Changes Management, Considers Rate Decrease

Newspaper article The Billings Gazette (Billings, MT)

Beartooth Co-Op Changes Management, Considers Rate Decrease

Article excerpt

ROBERTS - Beartooth Electric Cooperative customers saw their power bills double between 2006 and 2011.

The co-op's board members said three different analyses have come to the same conclusion: Beartooth's financial situation is healthy enough to plan for a modest rate decrease.

The news came during the first of four informational meetings held for Beartooth members throughout the electric cooperative's service area.

"All of a sudden, instead of digging ourselves out of the mud, it's an opportunity to make things happen," said trustee Arleen Boyd. "We know what's possible. The question is implementation - what, when, how. Three studies say a rate decrease is possible in 2015."

Decisions on the amount and timing of any rate decrease will be the result of discussions between the board and Beartooth's new management team. Beartooth has contracted for three years of management services with Lower Valley Energy, a power cooperative based in the Jackson, Wyo., area.

Jim Webb, manager of LVE, will replace Beartopth interim manager Richard Peck, who arrived three years ago to help unravel the cooperative's damaging financial and contractual entanglements.

"The bankruptcy is under control, finances are in order and the cost of operations is going down," Peck said Monday.

As Peck leaves, he welcomed former colleague Webb, who attended the informational meeting. As of Wednesday, Webb and his staff will become Beartooth's new shared management team.

"Your board will make the final decisions," he said.

Webb reflected on past pitfalls and mistakes that doubled Beartooth rates and cost its members more than $6 million in charges related to the bankruptcy proceedings of its umbrella cooperative and power provider, Southern Montana Electric.

"I want to be a savings to you, not a cost to you," Webb said. "You've paid enough already."

Beartooth will pay Lower Valley Energy for shared management services, but Webb emphasized that neither he nor his staff will receive an increase in pay. The advantage, he said, will go to the customers of both cooperatives, who should benefit from economies of scale. …

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