The Montana Public Service Commission won a court victory this week over an issue that could directly impact rural Montanans that receive public utilities. According to PSC chairman Travis Kavulla, the issue under dispute was who has the final say on when a utility can cut off service.

"This court victory originates out of Chinook and the issue and dispute is whether a company called Havre Pipeline, which is majority owned by NorthWestern, should be allowed to abandon the service to rural customers without the PSC's permission," said Kavulla.

The PSC argued that it should have the final say. Kavulla, says that, in the past, companies would shift customers from natural gas to propane before cutting off service, but this time they were abrupt and possibly dangerous.

"For whatever reason Havre Pipeline and NorthWestern have been resisting that approach and instead have been letting people experience shut downs and service often in the middle of winter," Kavulla said. "I have received a couple of calls where people have suddenly had their gas stop delivering service and they have had to turn on their ovens to heat their homes."

Kavulla says the PSC is investigating whether there should be any financial compensation for those who received service cuts without PSC approval. It is possible that NorthWestern Energy and Havre Pipeline could appeal the decision to the Montana Supreme Court.