This Legislative Session was challenging, to say the least. The pace and intensity was unlike any in recent memory, and opposition to renewable energy development continued to be deeply entrenched. Rooftop solar and small-scale renewables emerged from the session mostly intact, but not without their share of losses.
One of those losses is the Alternative Energy Systems Tax Credit. In the early days of the session we worked on a bipartisan interim committee bill (HB17, Rep. Hamilton) to help lower- and moderate-income Montanans more easily access solar and wind by making the tax credit fully refundable. That concept didn’t gain traction and the bill died, but the credit itself survived – until SB399 (Sen. Hertz) was introduced. SB399 hand-picked winners and losers among tax credits. The targeted losers included rooftop solar and energy efficiency. As of the 2022 tax year, the alternative energy systems credit will no longer be available to help Montanans invest in energy- and cost-saving technologies that fuels investment in local economies.
We also lost the state’s Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS). Montana’s RPS was adopted in 2005 and immediately helped move the needle on renewable energy development in the state. Montana’s utilities were in healthy compliance with the 15% by 2015 standard, which is a great thing. Montana should have followed the lead of other states like Nevada, Arizona, Minnesota, Texas, Maine, Colorado, and Oregon by increasing the RPS goals. Instead, the Legislature made a firm statement in opposition of renewable energy by repealing the policy altogether.
One major victory from the session was defeating HB359 (Rep. Brewster) which was an attempt by Northwestern Energy to overturn the PSC’s ruling on rooftop solar credits and upend Montana’s solar market. We wrote about our work on this bill during our Mid-Session Review, but defeating the bill was a major victory that is worth celebrating again! It was inspiring to see the outpouring of opposition to the bill as a demonstration of what our community can do when we raise a unified voice. Still, it is alarming that Northwestern is getting more bold in its attempts to prioritize their own interests over abiding by the decisions of their regulators at the PSC.
A bittersweet victory was the fate of House Bill 448 (Rep. Kassmier), which would have increased the size limit for rooftop solar systems in Montana to help Montana’s schools, libraries, and small businesses save more money. Yet again, anti-solar interests and false narratives were simply too entrenched. Northwestern Energy led the charge on hijacking the bill with language that would have harmed solar customers and directly taken jobs away from solar professionals. MREA was able to work with our allies and the bill sponsor to kill the hijacked version at the 11th hour of the session. Despite its ultimate demise, the bill earned significant bipartisan support along the way and made it further than any net metering bill has in years. This gives us hope for what the future holds.
This session we saw more of the deeply entrenched opposition to solar and renewables. And yet, we know that momentum is on our side. We also know there is a lot of work still to be done. Legislators need more education and a deeper understanding of these issues. We must ensure they are hearing from all of the stakeholders affected by their decisions, including the Montanans who support these technologies and the solar and wind professionals who install them. There were too many times where legislators were making decisions without the complete set of facts. MREA is a leading voice for renewable energy education and advocacy in the state, and we look forward to continuing that work in the coming months as we try to realize our vision of a Montana where the widespread use of renewable energy drives Montana’s economy and powers every aspect of Montanans’ lives.