The Montana Public Service Commission has approved rate changes for NorthWestern Energy that will, in part, base your rates on how much energy you use. The idea behind the tiered rates structure in meant to encourage energy conservation.

HELENA — State utility regulators Tuesday approved sweeping rate changes for NorthWestern Energy's electric and gas customers, including new "tiered" electric rates for homeowners and other mechanisms meant to encourage conservation.

The Montana Public Service Commission voted 4-1 to approve the changes, which will increase overall electric rates about 1.5 percent from summertime levels. Natural gas rates will be largely unchanged.

When NorthWestern's 330,000 customers look at their bill next month, they'll actually see a decreased rate, because the PSC temporarily raised rates in July, anticipating an eventual permanent increase at a higher level.

Tuesday's final ruling — the result of a settlement among the company, the Consumer Counsel and other consumer groups — ended up installing rates lower than the temporary increase.

NorthWestern not only will lower the temporary rates to the new level starting in January, but also will refund to customers over the next six months the excess collected since July.

More From KMMS-KPRK 1450 AM