PSC postpones Mountain Water proceedings, citing ‘difficulties’ (September 2, 2015)

The Montana Public Service Commission will not consider the sale of Missoula’s drinking water system to Liberty Utilities Co. as planned this October, saying information needed to hold the hearing has not been made available to the city for review.

Citing difficulties in the Canadian company’s data releases, the PSC said Tuesday that it will suspend an October hearing date. A replacement schedule will be issued in coming weeks, the commission said.

The city of Missoula has not reviewed the information, and must be able to do so in order to formulate its testimony, said Eric Sell, communications director for the PSC. The commission hoped that the two parties (Liberty and the city) would be able to resolve this dispute among themselves, but unfortunately, they have been unable to do so.

Tuesday’s decision by the PSC comes one week after it granted Liberty special protections regarding proprietary information it had compiled in its quest to purchase Mountain Water.

At the same time, however, the commission has said that such information, including Liberty’s financial models and due diligence, should be available for review by the city of Missoula at the Crowley Fleck law office.

But attorneys representing the city have maintained that Liberty hasn’t made the information available. As a result, the city asked Missoula County District Court last week to assert jurisdiction in the case.

In its request, the city asked the court to stay the PSC proceedings, saying it had been denied a meaningful opportunity to participate in the process.

Liberty has not provided access to its financial models, and as far as I understand it, to the Montana Consumer Counsel, under acceptable arrangements, Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg said Tuesday. Liberty claims they’ve made it available, but under a set of requirements and constraints that are unacceptable.

The city also believes that District Court has already granted it constructive ownership of Mountain Water, making the PSC’s hearing with Liberty irrelevant.

District Court Judge Karen Townsend has already scheduled a valuation hearing for November in the city’s quest to own the water system. A panel of three water commissioners will attempt to place a value on Mountain Water for the city to consider.

It makes zero sense for the PSC to consider that transaction (with Liberty), given where we are in our process, Mayor John Engen said last week. The city already has constructive ownership of Mountain Water. The PSC is wasting its time because of that constructive ownership.

After the PSC granted Liberty special protection, PSC Commissioner Travis Kavulla issued a dissenting opinion, suggesting that Mountain Water’s alleged service issues were the gateways through which a regulated utility, such as Liberty, would project growing profits.

Von Lossberg believes Liberty’s owner, Algonquin Power & Utilities Corp., of Canada, is calling the shots, and that Liberty is withholding its financial models to hide its projected profits from city leaders and Missoula ratepayers.

Algonquin’s interests in this system are clear, von Lossberg said. They see a system in need of millions of dollars in investment and to them, that’s a mechanism to profit by. It ties into the financial models that Liberty has withheld.

Liberty and Algonquin didn’t return requests for comment on Tuesday.

Source: Martin Kidston, The Missoulian