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Daniel Zolnikov will run for Montana Public Service Commission, the state lawmaker announced Thursday.

Zolnikov, who was chair of the House Energy Committee in the 2019 Legislature, said he was compelled to run after looking at the lasting financial damage of past PSC decisions. He named the commission’s 2014 approval of NorthWestern Energy’s $870 million purchase of 11 Montana hydroelectric dams previously owned by Pennsylvania Power and Light as one vote that’s left consumers paying much higher prices for power than what’s available on the free market. South Dakota-based NorthWestern is the largest monopoly utility in Montana.

“One of those bad decisions was obviously deregulation, that is the easiest one. The other was the purchase of the dams at such a high price,” Zolnikov said.

The south-central Montana district Zolnikov wants to represent includes Billings, Miles City, Laurel, and Colstrip. The seat is held by Republican Tony O'Donnell. O'Donnell is seekind a second term.

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Zolnikov, also a Republican, didn’t mention the PSC’s approval of $407 million in customer debt associated with NorthWestern’s 2007 acquisition of a 30% stake in Colstrip Power Plant Unit 3. The debt, which customers have been paying off since 2009 and are scheduled to keep paying through 2042, has drawn criticism as the power plant’s other owners make plans to be financially ready for shut down by 2027.

In an announcement released Thursday, Zolnikov stressed the importance of “affordable, reliable energy.” Reliable is an adjective often used to advocate finding a way to keep the coal-fired power plant in Colstrip running, at least until NorthWestern customers have paid off their debt.

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“Unreliable energy could be detrimental to Montana businesses and the safety of Montana residents while expensive energy rates can negatively impact businesses and the discretionary income of everyday Montanans,” Zolnikov said in his announcement. “Nothing is more important for energy customers than affordable and reliable energy and this will be my number one priority.”

Zolnikov made a national splash for his work on internet privacy as a Montana legislator. He was written up in Mashable and named to the Forbes 30 under 30 list in 2014.

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