Legislative Half-time Report: Net metering

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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 we support them and their vote, and that we appreciate their hard work on these issues.

This week the session is in recess for Transmittal Break, but will begin the second half on Monday. We look forward to continuing to work with our members and partners to protect net metering in the coming weeks. Please continue to check back in on this page and through our e-Newsletter Action Alerts to stay up to speed on our work at the Capitol.

Senate Bill 78 – creates a new, separate rate class for net metering utility customers and reduces the credit rate for net metering customers to an “avoided cost” rate. This bill is one of many attacking net metering kilowatt-hour credit rates, and oversteps the legislature’s bounds in determining a methodology for setting rates. The PSC is the authority that should be determining which methodologies to use to determine rates, and what those rates should be. There was resounding opposition to this bill in the Senate Energy Committee from over a dozen individuals, including from MREA members and installers. Unfortunately, the bill passed out of that committee on a party line vote 8-5. The bill then went on to pass the Senate 30-19. This bill will be heard in front of the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee this coming Wednesday, March 8th. If you are interested and available to testify, please email me to let me know. If you cannot make it, please contact the committee and strongly urge them to oppose this bill.

Senate Bill 7 – uses cost shifting, which is inherent in the utility grid system, to discriminate against net metered customers. This bill prematurely changes statute to take a position on the issue of cost-shifting. It implies the existence of significant cost-shifts without clarity on the issue. Together, this will only harm private investment in these technologies and small businesses in Montana. Once again, there was resounding opposition to this bill in the Senate Energy Committee. Unfortunately, even in light of heavy opposition during it’s hearing in both the Senate and the House Energy Committees, this bill is still moving forward. This bill is pending executive action by the House Federal Relations, Energy, and Telecommunications Committee. Please contact the committee members and strongly urge them to oppose this bill. If it passes, it will head to the House and then, potentially, on to the Governor’s desk. Please contact the House Energy Committee and strongly urge them to oppose this bill.

Senate Bill 154 – This bill removes several tax incentives for net metering systems, making it impossible to receive the alternative energy production credit, alternative energy system credit, or apply for the alternative energy revolving loan program. Removing these incentives will make it more difficult to invest in these technologies, shaking investor confidence and ultimately damaging the ability for businesses in this industry to grow. This bill saw strong opposition and very limited support, which did not include NorthWestern Energy. Still, this bill passed the Senate Energy Committee on an 8-5 party line vote. We are waiting for a vote to be schedule on the Senate Floor. Please contact your Senators and urge them to oppose this bill.

House Bill 219 – has two important pieces: a grandfathering clause that protects kilowatt-hour credit rates for net metering customers under any future changes, and a trigger for a public utility to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of net metering when net metering systems reaches 1% of a public utility’s total electric sales. MREA originally support this bill, suggesting the bill require the PSC conduct the study. This bill passed out of the House with amendments that struck the 1% trigger and instead requires the cost-benefit analysis be completed by the public utility by April 1, 2018. The 1% trigger is an important milestone for conducting this study, ensuring the industry is allowed to grow while the utilities collect the necessary data to conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis. Because of this, MREA is opposing this bill and suggesting the original 1% language be re-inserted. This bill has passed out of Committee with the amendments noted above, passed the House, and has been transmitted to the Senate. We are waiting for a hearing to be scheduled with the Senate Energy Committee.

House Bill 34 – would have increased the arbitrary and outdated 50kW cap for net metered system to 250kW for government entities (including schools and universities, city and county governments, as well as federal and tribal governments). This bill was heard very early in the session and marked the beginning of the heavily contested net-metering debate between renewable energy advocates and the utility. Even with resounding support of this bill, it was tabled in committee.

House Bill 52 – grandfathering net metering customers under any future rate changes. This bill had unanimous support, including from the utilities. This bill was ultimately tabled once House Bill 219 was originally brought forward, due to the overlap.

House Bill 504 – would have: increased the net metering cap to 1MW for all net metering customers; allowed for aggregate net metering; allowed for community net metering; provided excess credits that are normally forfeited to the utility to be used for low-income bill assistance. This bill had a heavily contested hearing, with a large number of supporters (including numerous MREA members). The following day, hundreds of Montanans attended the Solar Jobs, calling for support of this bill. Unfortunately, the bill tied on an 8-8 vote in the House Energy Committee and was ultimately tabled.

Senate Bill 1 – would have required additional metering and inverter technology, increasing costs for net metered systems immediately and across the board. MREA and several members testified in opposition of this bill, explaining the negative impacts it would have on renewable energy investments. This bill was tabled in committee.