This webpage aims to keep you informed on MREA's positions on key bills during the Legislative Session. There are a number of other bills that we may be working on and/or closely following that may not be listed below. If you have any questions about specific bills, please reach out directly.
HB22 (Rep. Bishop). House Bill 22 came from the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee. The bill sets the contract lengths for Qualifying Facilities ("QFs") at a minimum of 20 years. 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 guaranteed cost recovery (i.e. contract lengths) 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. Current status: Passed 2nd reading in the House unanimously (100-0). Scheduled for 3rd reading on February 25.
HB78 (Rep. Perry). 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 very 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. All other major utilities in the northwest have planning meetings that are open to the public – NorthWestern’s process is an outlier. HB78 was heard in front of the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee on January 14th, with MREA present to support the bill. Current status: Passed the House (79-20). Waiting for a hearing to be scheduled in a Senate committee.
HB267 (Rep. Zolnikov). 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. You can read MREA's letter of support here. This bill was heard in the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee on January 28th. Current status: Passed the House (98-1). Awaiting a hearing date in front of Senate Energy.
SB188 (Sen. Malek). Senate Bill 188 will increase transparency and oversight of the planning process, and provide an opportunity for consumers to save money through lower-cost supply resources. The bill opens up utility planning advisory committee meetings to public observation and comment, and provides opportunities for public comment on a utility's requests for proposals for new resources. This bill would improve communication and understanding between the public and the utility. It will ensure that stakeholders who do not have representation on the advisory committee, but who are affected by their decisions, have an opportunity to provide their perspective and comments for consideration. Further, the bill improve oversight of the resource solicitation process that will ensure that the acquisition of resources is overseen by an impartial body. Finally, the competitive solicitation process will create more opportunities for lower-cost resources to be included in the utility’s portfolio, thus saving consumers money. The cost of solar and wind development continues to drop, as does the costs of storage technologies. This bill ensures that these resources, which - nationally - are demonstrating competitive and often times lower prices than natural gas, coal, and other “conventional” fuel types, will be fairly considered. You can read MREA's letter of support here. Current status: Tabled in Senate Energy. This bill is likely dead.
HB144 (Rep. Redfield). This bill removes 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. Current status: Still in House Taxation Committee awaiting a decision on whether to vote to send it to the floor.
SB93 (Sen. Richmond). 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 yet another legislative roadblock preventing more renewable energy development in Montana. You can read MREA's letter of opposition here. The Senate Energy and Telecommunications Committee will vote on the bill soon. Current status: Heading to the Senate Floor for 2nd reading soon.
HB487 (Rep. Skees). This bill allows existing hydro-electric 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. Current status: Scheduled for 3rd reading on February 25th.
Here are two easy ways to communicate with legislators:
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.
Citizen advocacy is critical to our cause. Thank you for your time and efforts!