2019 Legislative Session Half-time Report

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Senate Members onlyThe 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 will gain. Many good bills have already died, while still others are making their way through the process.  In this post, we provide an update on a number of key bills that are still alive and moving. Most of the priority bills we are following have passed through the House and are heading to the other chamber. Our eyes will be focusing on the Senate for much of the remainder of the session.

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.

Large Scale Renewables

House Bill 22 (Rep. Bishop) – MREA Supports
House Bill 22 came from the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee. The bill originally set the contract lengths for Qualifying Facilities ("QFs") at a minimum of 25 years or more, but was amended to 20 years or more. Long-term contracts that are 20-years or more provide the certainty necessary for a developer to move a project forward. The 20-year contract length is also consistent with revenue recovery periods for other energy supply resources that NorthWestern Energy has purchased. This includes the Spion Kop wind farm (25 years), the David Gates Generating Station (natural gas, 30 years), and Colstrip Unit 4 (coal, 34 years). Independent renewable energy projects should be given the certainty of long-term contracts that are financially reasonable and on par with utility-owned resources if more renewable energy development is to occur within Montana. Bill progress: Passed out of House Energy Committee 12-0; Passed 2nd reading in the House unanimously, 100-0; Passed 3rd reading in the House 94-2. The bill has been referred to the Senate Energy Committee, waiting for a hearing to be scheduled.

Senate Bill 93 (Sen. Richmond) – MREA Opposes
This bill discriminates against large scale solar development by adding additional red tape requirements. In the past 3 years we have seen the dawn of large-scale solar development in Montana. We should be encouraging these types of clean, renewable energy sources, not deterring them. These projects are also opportunities for Montana's solar industry to expand their businesses. This bill would create another legislative roadblock preventing more renewable energy development in Montana. Bill progress: Passed out of Senate Energy Committee 8-5; Passed 2nd reading in the Senate 31-19; Sent to Senate Finance and Claims, where it passed 15-4; Passed 3rd reading in the Senate 33-15. The bill was referred to the House Energy Committee, and awaits a hearing.

House Bill 487 (Rep. Skees) – MREA Opposes
This bill allows existing hydroelectric dams to be included in the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). The RPS was designed to encourage the development of new renewable energy projects in Montana to continue pushing our utilities to develop clean energy supply resources. By allowing existing hydro projects, the bill is defeating the purpose of the RPS. Bill progress: Passed out of House Energy Committee 7-5; Passed 2nd reading in the House 70-30; Passed 3rd reading in the House 64-32. The bill was referred to Senate Energy, and awaits a hearing.

House Bill 513 (Rep. Pope) – MREA is monitoring this bill
This bill makes several changes to the Community Renewable Energy Project (CREP) requirement which is part of the Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). This bill makes a number of changes that would allow greater flexibility in meeting the CREP requirements, including for storage technologies. Learn more about this bill from MEICBill progress: Passed out of House Energy Committee 12-0; Passed 2nd reading in the House 82-18; Passed 3rd reading in the House 75-24. The bill was transmitted to the Senate, and awaits a Committee assignment.

Utility Processes and Utility Reform

House Bill 78 (Rep. Perry) – MREA Supports
House Bill 78 came from the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee, and requires that investor owned utilities (like NorthWestern Energy) hold at least two public meetings during their resource supply planning process. This is a good bill that would increase transparency in the planning process and bolster trust between utilities and their customers. Planning discussions currently happen behind closed doors, with an invite-only advisory committee that the utility appoints. This lack of transparency leaves stakeholders and customers in the dark and unable to share their feedback and input with the utility. Bill progress: Passed out of House Energy Committee 11-1; Passed 2nd reading in the House, 88-12; Passed 3rd reading in the House 79-20. The bill was referred to the Senate Energy Committee, and awaits a hearing.

House Bill 267 (Rep. Zolnikov) – MREA Supports
House Bill 267 establishes privacy and data access protection for consumers who have smart meters on their property, and creates an opt-out provision for customers who do not wish to have their utility install a smart meter. Smart meters and the information they are able to provide create potential for a greater understanding of energy use by the end-user, as well as by utilities. Smart meters are a key element of any future smart grid development, which will harmonize with energy efficiency programs and unlock distributed generation as an asset for utilities. Critical to the deployment of these technologies is data access and data privacy. This bill ensures customer data is protected from third parties. Bill progress: Passed out of House Energy Committee 12-0; Passed 2nd reading in the House 99-1; Passed 3rd reading in the House 98-1. This bill was referred to the Senate Energy Committee, and awaits a hearing.

House Bill 597 (Rep. Zolnikov) – MREA is monitoring this bill
This bill makes several significant changes to utility planning and development processes. MEIC has more information about this billBill progress: Still in House Energy Committee awaiting a decision on whether to vote to send it to the floor. This bill has a fiscal note, and thus is a revenue bill which is not subject to the transmittal deadline that general bills are subject to. This bill has until April 1 to be transmitted to the Senate.

Other key energy bills

House Bill 144 (Rep. Redfield) – MREA Opposes
This bill repeals numerous tax incentives. Importantly, it would remove several tax incentives for net metering systems, making it impossible to receive key incentives like the alternative energy production credit, alternative energy system credit, as well as certain energy efficiency incentives. Removing these incentives will make it more difficult to invest in these technologies, shaking investor confidence and ultimately damaging the ability for businesses in the solar industry to grow. Bill progress: Still in House Taxation Committee awaiting a decision on whether to vote to send it to the floor. This bill has a fiscal note, and thus is a revenue bill which is not subject to the transmittal deadline that general bills are subject to. This bill has until April 1 to be transmitted to the Senate.

Senate Bill 245 (Sen. McNally) – MREA Supports
This bill establishes a Commercial Property Assessed Clean Energy (C-PACE) program. This voluntary program provides a financing mechanism for commercial businesses to make investments in energy efficiency, water conservation, and renewable energy projects. They can finance these investments through incremental increases to their annual property tax bill. You can find out more about the CPACE bill hereBill progress: This bill will be heard in front of the Senate Energy Committee on March 12th at 3pm in Room 317. This bill has a fiscal note, and thus is a revenue bill which is not subject to the transmittal deadline that general bills are subject to. This bill has until April 1 to be transmitted to the House.

Get involved

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. You can also get involved directly by calling or emailing your legislators. The online messaging form will be disabled during the interim break.

1) Leave a voice message. Call the Capitol at (406) 444-4800 and request to leave messages for the committee members or an individual legislator.
2) Send an email. You can send an email to a committee or to an individual legislator via the online web messaging form.