Many natural gas customers in Nebraska are likely to see smaller bills because of the corporate tax rate cut passed by Congress last year.

Nebraska Public Service Commission spokeswoman Deb Collins said both Black Hills Energy and Northwestern Energy have notified the commission that they intend to pass some of their tax savings on to ratepayers.

Collins said the process is being done informally and details are still being worked out.

"While the PSC is working with the two companies and the Public Advocate on this process, there will be no formal proceeding," Collins said in an email.

Black Hills, which is the largest natural gas provider in Nebraska, serving about 300,000 customers across the state, including the Columbus area, gave no details or timeline for its plans.

"Black Hills Energy is currently reviewing the recently approved Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017," spokeswoman Brandy Johnson said in an email. "We will work with utility regulators to develop a plan to provide customers the benefit of the corporate tax rate reduction."

A spokesman from Northwestern Energy, which serves about 45,000 customers in Kearney, Grand Island, North Platte and Elba, said it, too, is evaluating options.

"At this point, we are trying to figure how much the savings might be and develop a plan for what the best option might be for customers," said spokesman Butch Larcombe. "We have not promised a rate cut. We told the PSC that we intend to pass the savings along to customers in one form or another."

The tax overhaul that went into effect Jan. 1 lowers the highest corporate income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent.

Utilities are allowed to incorporate federal income tax obligations into the rates they charge customers, but Bob Anthony, a member of the Oklahoma Corporation Commission, the agency that regulates public utilities in the state, said consumers help pay those taxes every time they pay their bills.

"It's not fair to over-collect for federal corporate income taxes," Anthony said.

The moves by Black Hills and Northwestern come as regulators in Oklahoma and other states, as well as consumer groups such as AARP, are demanding that utility rates be rolled back.

In Montana, where both companies also operate, the state has estimated savings from rate cuts could be in the millions of dollars.

Montana Public Service Commission Chairman Brad Johnson said the agency "wants to ensure that this money is not simply captured by shareholders, but instead is directed in a way that provides a long-term benefit to the consumer."

Electricity customers in Nebraska are not likely to see similar rate cuts because all of the state's providers are either public entities or nonprofit cooperatives.


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