67th Montana Legislature: Mid-Session Review

67th Montana Legislature: Mid-Session Review

After a relatively slow start to the first few weeks of the 67th Legislative Session, the last few weeks of February were a whirlwind as legislators worked to get bills introduced and heard in committees before the Transmittal Deadline on March 3rd. Other than revenue bills (and a few other exceptions), bills that are not voted out of committee and across to the other chamber before the Transmittal Deadline die and are not allowed to move forward. Discussions on energy issues, in particular, ramped up over the last few weeks. Below we share some of our insights from inside the hallways of the…
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Solar Powered, Off-grid EV Charging

Solar Powered, Off-grid EV Charging

This post was written by Christopher Borton, Co-founder and Director of the Sage Mountain Center and MREA Board Member. Chris recently made an exciting upgrade to the Center that promises to be part of the quickly evolving market of electric vehicles.  The electric heater in my office is humming while outside it is 20 degrees F and our 2017 Chevy Volt is charging up from the solar electric panels on our site. In the 30 years we have operated Sage Mountain Center – our off-grid home and retreat center – we have always known there was a missing link in…
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Benefit-Cost Study of Distributed Generation Leaves Questions Unanswered

Benefit-Cost Study of Distributed Generation Leaves Questions Unanswered

In April, the cost-benefit analysis of distributed generation (i.e. rooftop solar) initiated by House Bill 219 was submitted by NorthWestern Energy to the Public Service Commission. The report is now public and is required to be included in the next electric rate case, which is expected to begin in September. Staff at MREA have reviewed the study. First, no work papers, data spreadsheets, or any other supporting materials were included with the report. This makes it incredibly difficult to verify the report’s claims. This lack of transparency is concerning, especially considering the ultimate goal of this report was to bring…
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Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 2

Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, we gave an overview of the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC), including a brief history and a description of key elements of its role and structure. In Part 2, we focus on the PSC’s role in energy related issues, and specifically on three important electricity related responsibilities: creating customer classes and setting rates; overseeing long-term planning processes; and setting contract terms for Qualifying Facilities. Creating Customer Classes and Setting Rates The PSC is charged with creating customer classes for investor owned utilities, and setting the electricity rates (i.e. prices) for those classes. Since utility…
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Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 1

Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 1

As of March 1, 2018, NorthWestern Energy has one month to submit its distributed generation (i.e. rooftop solar) cost-benefit analysis to Montana’s Public Service Commission (PSC). The analysis is the latest in an ongoing debate over net metering policy that most recently resulted in House Bill 219. HB 219 passed in the 2017 Legislature and mandated NorthWestern Energy to study the costs and benefits of distributed generation customers. Throughout this process, a number of questions have come up: why is the utility overseeing the study and not the PSC? What happens once the study is finished? How will this affect…
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Sibanye-Stillwater Smelter Installs Montana's First Behind-the-Meter Industrial Scale Solar Array

Sibanye-Stillwater Smelter Installs Montana's First Behind-the-Meter Industrial Scale Solar Array

As of December 20, 2017, the Sibanye-Stillwater metallurgical complex in Columbus can now boast the first “behind-the-meter” industrial scale solar installation project in the state. The 100 kW solar array was installed by OnSite Energy, based out of Bozeman. The project was completed in a short time-frame to accommodate the end of the fiscal year, and the OnSite crew of four pushed through an icy December to complete the installation process. Many commercial and residential solar installations in Montana are net-metered, meaning when the panels are producing more energy than is being consumed on site, that excess energy is exported back…
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What do these solar tariffs mean?

Last week the President ordered 30% tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. These tariffs are nothing short of artificial price increases, leaving many in Montana to wonder how this will affect their ability to purchase solar. This will be a surmountable, albeit frustrating, speed bump on the road towards energy independence. ​The decision, touted as a way to bolster american manufacturing and create jobs, is projected instead to cost the american solar industry 23,000 jobs. Most of these will be in installation, which makes up the majority of the solar industry. In Montana, installation makes up approximately 80% of…
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Legislature Special Session: Loan Program Funds Transfered, State Incentives Survive

On November 13th, the Montana Legislature opened a Special Session called by Gov. Bullock in order to address Montana’s budget crisis. MREA staff was present in Helena, working to protect renewable energy policies during the fast moving session. During the 4-day session, which adjourned on November 16th, MREA tracked two bills that had implications for renewable energy development: House Bill 7 and House Bill 6. During a Special Session, bills can move quickly – often times so quickly that their full implications may not be completely understood. This was a huge concern with House Bill 7 (Rep. Alan Redfield). HB7…
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Solar Tariffs threaten Montana’s Solar Industry

In May, two foreign-owned U.S. solar manufacturers (Suniva and SolarWorld) filed a “Section 201” request with the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) to place tariffs on imported solar cells and modules. The petition claimed that imported solar cells and modules were harming the domestic manufacturing industry. The USITC took up the petition and began looking into whether or not these imported cells and modules were indeed doing harm. On September 22nd, the USITC ruled that an increased volume of solar imports did injure domestic solar manufacturing. This is significant because a confirmation of injury to the market requires the USITC…
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Net metering study moving forward; ETIC establishes focus areas

Net Metering Cost-Benefit Analysis Update As a reminder: House Bill 219, passed by the 2017 Legislature and signed by Governor Bullock, directs the Montana Public Service Commission to oversee a cost-benefit analysis conducted by NorthWestern Energy of customer-generators (i.e. utility customers who use grid-tied, net-metered systems). HB219 gives the PSC the ability to set minimum information requirements for the cost-benefit study. For more, read our June 28 Policy Blog post below. In June, the PSC released draft minimum information requirements for the study, and put them out for public comment. MREA joined a number of other renewable energy advocates in…
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