Montana-Dakota Utilities Co. would raise its natural gas rates by $1.05 million under a tentative deal struck Wednesday with the state Public Service


The proposed bargain would add $13.92 annually to the gas bill of a typical residential customer, said Illona Jeffcoat-Sacco, the commission's utilities director.Montana-Dakota Utilities, which has 73,000 natural gas customers in North Dakota alone, requested $1.83 million in higher rates in a case filed last July. If MDU's original proposal were granted in full, a residential customer would pay $22.32 more annually for gas.

Leo Reinbold, president of the Public Service Commission, said the panel would hold an informal hearing on the settlement Wednesday.

The deal is not final. The commissioners may request changes, and disgruntled customers have until Nov. 22 to demand a formal hearing, Mr. Reinbold said.

The PSC held informal comment sessions by interactive television in seven North Dakota cities earlier this month.

If the commission concludes the settlement is worthwhile and no one objects, the new rates could go into effect Dec. 1.

Montana-Dakota Utilities has natural gas customers throughout North Dakota, except for most of the Red River Valley. Among North Dakota's larger cities, it serves Bismarck, Devils Lake, Dickinson, Jamestown, Valley City, Minot and Williston.

The utility is a subsidiary of MDU Resources Group Inc., which is based in Bismarck. It also has gas customers in Montana, South Dakota and Wyoming.

"We agreed we would settle for this amount in the interest of . . . getting the rates in place for the winter heating season, and to save the cost of a formal hearing," said Cathi Christopherson, a company spokeswoman.