Benefit-Cost Study of Distributed Generation Leaves Questions Unanswered

Benefit-Cost Study of Distributed Generation Leaves Questions Unanswered

Policy & Advocacy
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 clarity to questions on rooftop solar, not create further confusion or suspicion. Without the ability to verify the claims made in the study, they cannot be taken as fact. Second,…
Read More
Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 2

Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 2

Policy & Advocacy
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 customers use electricity and the grid differently, they may be grouped into different classes so they can be charged differently. Per Montana law, “Classifications may take into account the quantity…
Read More
Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 1

Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 1

Policy & Advocacy
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 Montanan’s ability to go solar? Many of these questions circle back to the importance of understanding the Public Service Commission and its role. Many Montanans do not realize the scope…
Read More

What do these solar tariffs mean?

Industry & Technical, Policy & Advocacy
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 the solar industry. These are small businesses, hiring a local workforce, and providing well paying jobs. Already, the uncertainty over the tariffs has caused businesses to curtail expansion. The tariffs…
Read More

Legislature Special Session: Loan Program Funds Transfered, State Incentives Survive

Policy & Advocacy
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 would have frozen numerous income tax credits that benefit Montanans across the state, including alternative energy credits. The alternative energy credits are used by thousands of Montanans to help support…
Read More

Solar Tariffs threaten Montana’s Solar Industry

Industry & Technical, Policy & Advocacy
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 to then make remedy recommendations to the President who will decide what, if any, remedies to enact. The original tariffs requested by the domestic manufacturers could double the cost of…
Read More

Net metering study moving forward; ETIC establishes focus areas

Policy & Advocacy
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 responding to the comments (view the comments here). Overall, the suggested list of benefits and costs was comprehensive, and we provided detailed feedback on each category for the PSC’s consideration.…
Read More

Net Metering Cost-Benefit Analysis Process Underway

Policy & Advocacy
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). This analysis could have significant impacts for net metering customers and renewable energy installers in Montana. House Bill 219 requires NorthWestern Energy (NWE) conduct a study on the costs and benefits of customer-generators (i.e. net metered customers) before April 1, 2018. NWE is required to submit this study to the Public Service Commission (PSC) who will then review the study and make findings, including as to whether or not to create a separate rate-payer class for customer-generators. As part of HB219, the PSC has the authority to set minimum information requirements for…
Read More

Legislative Wrap

Policy & Advocacy
updated May 9, 2017 The 65th Legislature has adjourned, and we at MREA are left with a feeling of both relief and frustration. Over the past 4-months, MREA staff worked with board members, colleagues, and our individual and business members to oppose attacks on net metering, the alternative energy loan program, and more. At the same time, we worked to advance legislation that would have created jobs and supported energy independence. We owe a large thank you to everyone who dedicated their time to come to Helena to testify this session, submitted comments online, and made phone calls to Legislators. Thank you for making your voice heard! While we are grateful that many of those bad bills never reached the Governor’s desk, we are discouraged that good bills, like the…
Read More

Legislative Half-time Report: Net metering

Policy & Advocacy
The past 8 weeks have been spent working hard to defend and promote net metering policy here in Montana. A huge thank you to all the MREA members and many others who called, sent emails, came to Helena to testify, and attended a thrilling rally. Even with all of this overwhelming support for positive action, it is clear the influences working against net metering continue to prove themselves too challenging to overcome. However, there is still important work to be done in the remaining months of the session. The bills that we brought forward to expand net metering have all died. Still, please reach out to your Senators and Representatives who voted to support those bills and thank them for their vote. It is important for them to know that…
Read More