Montana established the Universal System Benefits Program (USBP) in 1997 as part of its restructuring legislation. The USBP supports cost-effective energy conservation, low-income customer weatherization, renewable-energy projects and applications, research and development programs related to energy conservation and renewables, market transformation designed to encourage competitive markets for public purpose programs, and low-income energy assistance.
Beginning January 1, 1999, all electric utilities -- including electric cooperatives -- must contribute revenue generated from a surcharge on customers' electricity use. In 1997, the surcharge was set through electricity restructuring legislation and was based on 2.4% of electric utilities' 1995 revenues. This surcharge is determined by the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) and by individual electric cooperatives. However, the surcharge rate has not been adjusted since that time, so annual collections have increased slightly as utility loads have increased over time. In 2011, approximately $9.4 million was collected from utilities regulated by the PSC via a non-bypassable surcharge on customers' electricity use. The amount collected annually varies, depending on weather and economic conditions. Utilities may spend all or a portion of the funds on internal programs, or may opt to contract or fund eligible programs externally. Large-scale electricity users with a load exceeding one megawatt (MW) may choose to fund qualifying internal energy programs with monies that otherwise would be remitted to the USBP. The most recent report, covering 2011 collections, is available [http://www.northwesternenergy.com/documents/E+Programs/E+USBDORReport-11... here].
The USBP was set to expire December 31, 2009, but H.B. 27 removed the expiration date and extended the program indefinitely.