2019 Legislative Session Wrap

2019 Legislative Session Wrap

Policy & Advocacy
As of Thursday afternoon renewable energy advocates can take a deep breath and cheers to victory. The 2019 Legislative Session has come to a close, and advocates can celebrate their successes in protecting key energy policies from yet another session full of attacks. The short story? Nothing good passed, but neither did anything bad. And that's a win. Good bills die in the Senate - again. For yet another session, the Senate was predictably unfriendly to good renewable energy policies. A number of bills, such as HB22 and HB78, seemed to be well on their way to the Governor's desk. After garnering bipartisan support in the house, both bills made their way to the Senate. As we have seen for the past few sessions, anti-renewable senators stopped them dead in…
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2019 Legislative Session Half-time Report

2019 Legislative Session Half-time Report

Policy & Advocacy
The Montana House and Senate are officially in recess while they take a few days off for the "transmittal break". This means we are half-way through the legislative session, which will pick back up in earnest the week of March 11th . In the first half of the session we saw a number of bills addressing large scale renewable development, including qualifying facilities ("QFs"), and utility supply planning processes. These issues have come up in previous sessions and were discussed during the last interim session as well. In addition, legislators are discussing new trends in the energy space, like storage and electric vehicles. It is exciting to see our elected officials taking interest in these policies, but remains to be seen what traction some of the positive renewable energy bills…
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2019 Legislative Session Preview

2019 Legislative Session Preview

Policy & Advocacy
The 66th Montana Legislature was called into session last week and is currently scheduled to run until May 1st. MREA will be there to continually promote and support good renewable energy legislation while defending against attacks on key policies like net metering, renewable energy tax incentives, and more. MREA’s work is always strengthened by our member base, so please engage with our citizen advocacy efforts throughout the session and gain access to our action alerts by becoming a MREA member. As a member, you can also get regular updates on the legislative session and other solar industry news by signing up for our e-newsletter. There is a lot of uncertainty around the 2019 legislative landscape. Many bills still have generic names, do not have draft text available to read, and/or…
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Reflections from the Unknown Energy Battleground Tour

Reflections from the Unknown Energy Battleground Tour

Policy & Advocacy
The following is a guest blog post by Caitlin Piserchia, Conservation Fellow with Forward Montana.  The Montana Public Service Commission, a quasi-judicial regulatory body seemingly tucked away in a drafty building in Helena, has an almost unbearably boring name but a incredibly large influence over Montana’s energy future. In early October, MREA and Forward Montana partnered on a statewide tour to bring the Public Service Commission and their responsibilities into the public eye. After two weeks on the road as part of the Unknown Energy Battleground Tour, I came away with three major lessons: the Public Service Commission makes incredibly consequential decisions on a regular basis, they are an important piece of the puzzle when it comes to renewable energy development in Montana, and many Montanans don’t know how to influence their…
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Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 3

Understanding the Public Service Commission: Part 3

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 focused 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. This third and final installment of this series will focus on how to engage with the PSC. We also discuss PSC rulemaking and contested case processes, using the cost-benefit study on distributed generation as an example. Involvement at the Public Service Commission There are a number of ways of engaging with the PSC, and the method and number of opportunities to…
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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,…
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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…
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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…
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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…
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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…
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