Legislative Wrap

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updated May 9, 2017

The 65th Legislature has adjourned, and we at MREA are left with a feeling of both relief and frustration. Over the past 4-months, MREA staff worked with board members, colleagues, and our individual and business members to oppose attacks on net metering, the alternative energy loan program, and more. At the same time, we worked to advance legislation that would have created jobs and supported energy independence. We owe a large thank you to everyone who dedicated their time to come to Helena to testify this session, submitted comments online, and made phone calls to Legislators. Thank you for making your voice heard!

While we are grateful that many of those bad bills never reached the Governor’s desk, we are discouraged that good bills, like the Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom Act, never made it out of Committee.

Success took a different shape than we had hoped. Much of our work was spent defending against bad bills like SB1, SB7, SB78, and SB154, to name a few. We were happy to work with Legislators and coalition partners to prevent most of these bills from reaching the Governor’s desk. We are very grateful that Governor Bullock took a strong stance on protecting Montana’s renewable energy industry by vetoing those that did make it to his desk, including Senate Bill 7 and Senate Bill 154.

One piece of net metering legislation that did pass is HB219. MREA initially supported this bill, stressing the importance of grandfathering net metering customers under any future changes to the credit rate for energy they provide to the grid. HB219 ensures that current net metering customers are grandfathered for the life of their systems, an important promise to keep. However, the bill then took an unfortunate turn, with an amendment that moved the deadline for a net metering cost-benefit study from 1% of NorthWestern’s sales to a firm date of April 1, 2018. Setting a percentage trigger is how most states and grid experts have approached the question of when to evaluate net metering. In fact, 1% would have been at the low end of the percentage grid experts recommend. Instead, the bill passed with the April 2018 amendment included. While this is not the outcome we had hoped for, we look forward to working with the Public Service Commission and the utility to ensure the study is conducted in a valid and trustworthy manner.

Finally, we were disappointed by the tabling of House Bill 504, the “Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom Act.” We worked hard to recruit bipartisan co-sponsors for this proactive legislation. Despite the support of dozens of citizens testifying, hundreds attending a rally in the capitol, and thousands submitting comments, this bill died on a tie vote in the House Energy Committee. Other proactive bills such as HB34 (a modest net-metering system size cap increase for government entities) met a similar fate in committee.

What’s next?

Although the session is over, there is plenty of work to do. We will continue to engage key decision makers as they shape Montana’s energy future, focusing in the short term on the HB219-mandated cost-benefit analysis of net metering. We will continue to involve our staff, board, and members to ensure Montana’s future is a bright one powered by the sun, the wind, and the earth.

Summary of MREA’s legislative priorities from this session

Senate Bill 1: Requires additional metering and inverter technology for NEM customers, effective immediately.
Position: Oppose. This would have increased costs for net metered systems immediately and across the board.
Result: Tabled in Senate Energy Committee.

Senate Bill 7: Puts in statute that non-net metered customers may not “subsidize” net-metered customers.
Position: Oppose. This bill is vague in its implications and discriminatory against net metered customers, pitting utility customers against each other.
Result: Vetoed by the Governor.

Senate Bill 11: Requires the PSC conduct a biennial review of NEM system technology requirements, ensuring the PSC is monitoring utility implementation of interconnection requirements. Places the responsibility to review this technology solely in the hands of the PSC.
Position: Support. A biennial review avoids out-of-date standards, and a situation in which significant updates could shock the industry.
Result: As of 4/28 on its way to the Governor

Senate Bill 12: Gives the PSC the authority to require alternative/advanced metering technology for net metered systems.
Position: Support, suggesting changes: that the bill apply to all utility customers. Alternative/advanced metering could help lead to advances in smart grid deployment and better integration of Distributed Energy Resources to the grid, but this technology should apply to all utility customers.
Result: Tabled in House Energy Committee.

Senate Bill 78: Creates a new, separate rate class for net metering utility customers and reduce the credit rate for net metering customers to an “avoided cost” rate.
Position: Oppose. This bill would change the credit rate without any data to justify the change. The change would be significant enough to shock and drastically harm the renewable energy industry in Montana.
Result: Tabled in House Energy Committee.

Senate Bill 154: Removes several tax incentives for net metering systems, making it impossible to receive the alternative energy production credit and the alternative energy system credit.
Position: Oppose. These tax credits have been used by thousands of Montanans to help invest in these technologies.This bill is hardly a fix for the state’s budgetary woes, but much more clearly an attack on net metering and the renewable energy industry.
Result: Vetoed by the Governor.

Senate Bill 201: Allows for aggregate net metering.
Position: Support. Aggregate net metering is an administrative change that would allow systems, especially in rural areas, to be designed based on optimal site conditions and not on which meter has the largest load.
Result: Tabled in Committee, after which the Sponsor successfully “blasted” the bill onto the Senate Floor, where it narrowly failed (24-25).

House Bill 34: Increases the 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).
Position: Support. This bill was a compromise bill from the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee that would have made an incremental but important update to Montana’s net metering cap.
Result: Tabled in House Energy Committee.

House Bill 52: “Grandfathers” kilowatt-hour credit rates for net metering customers under any future changes to the credit rate.
Position: Support. Grandfathering credit rates is key to ensuring that Montanans investing in these systems have the confidence that their investment will be protected over time.
Result: Tabled in the House Energy Committee.

House Bill 219: Grandfathers kilowatt-hour credit rates for net metering customers under any future changes to the credit rate; triggers a public utility to conduct a cost-benefit analysis of net metering to be completed by April 1, 2018. The analysis will be overseen by the PSC, but conducted by the utility or its consultants.
Position: Oppose, suggesting changes: that the study be triggered when net metering deployment reaches 1% of a utility’s total electrical sales. The 1% trigger allows the industry to grow while sufficient data is collected to ensure a valid study.
Result: Signed into law by the Governor.

House Bill 504: (“Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom Act”) Increases the net metering cap to 1MW for all net metering customers; allow for aggregate net metering; allow for community net metering; provide excess credits that are normally forfeited to the utility to be used for low-income bill assistance.
Position: Support. This bill would have significantly advanced renewable energy and net metering policy in Montana.
Result: Tabled in House Energy Committee.