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NorthWestern will implement improvements suggested by consultantPosted at 12:25 p.m. August 31

NorthWestern will implement improvements suggested by consultantPosted at 12:25 p.m. August 31

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HELENA - NorthWestern Energy told state regulators it would implement several improvements recommended by a consultant that evaluated its electric and natural gas distribution system.

In a filing with the state Public Service Commission late Monday, NorthWestern said it was considering some of the other recommendations made by the Liberty Consulting Group of Quentin, Pa.

Mike Hanson, NorthWestern's chief operating officer, said the audit found the utility's operations are generally consistent with good utility practices, but made some suggestions for improvement.

"We agree with many of the recommendations and have already begun implementing some of them," Hanson said. "There are some recommendations that we believe should be modified or require more study before further action is taken."

NorthWestern already has begun increasing staffing of its field operations, craft and engineering positions, he said. The company agrees with the suggestions to enhance its inspection and maintenance programs and said Liberty's tree-trimming recommendations are feasible with some modifications.

Liberty also recommended replacing underground cables and installing outage analysis systems, but noted those are expensive items, Hanson said. NorthWestern needs to work with the PSC, Montana consumer counsel and others to determine if the potential benefit justifies that expense, he said.

NorthWestern has set a five-year budget as part of its bankruptcy restructuring plan and will incorporate the cost of the accepted recommendations into its budget-planning process. However, Hanson said, the company would likely have to raise rates to pay for more the more expensive changes.

NorthWestern Energy will provide quarterly progress reports to the PSC, starting in January, to inform the utility regulators on the steps the utility is taking to address the recommendations.

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