House Bill 219, passed by the 2017 Legislature and signed by Governor Bullock, directs the Montana Public Service Commission to oversee a cost-benefit analysis conducted by NorthWestern Energy of customer-generators (i.e. utility customers who use grid-tied, net-metered systems). This analysis could have significant impacts for net metering customers and renewable energy installers in Montana.
House Bill 219 requires NorthWestern Energy (NWE) conduct a study on the costs and benefits of customer-generators (i.e. net metered customers) before April 1, 2018. NWE is required to submit this study to the Public Service Commission (PSC) who will then review the study and make findings, including as to whether or not to create a separate rate-payer class for customer-generators. As part of HB219, the PSC has the authority to set minimum information requirements for the analysis. In other words, they can set requirements for which benefits and costs must be addressed by NWE.
This analysis may have significant impacts on net metering in Montana. It has the potential to affect the value of net metering credits and how net metered customers pay their energy bills. As such, it could affect the financial viability of investing in renewable energy systems. This, in turn, will impact the ability of renewable energy installers to do their job.
The potential danger is a biased analysis. In the Legislature, NWE firmly and repeatedly established its opinion on the costs and benefits of distributed-generators. It is critical that the analysis fairly represent the benefits, as well as the costs, of distributed-generators. Our goal is to ensure an open and transparent process, in which all of those impacted by this study have an opportunity to provide input and understand the data and its impacts.
It is our hope, and one that we feel is shared among those on both sides of this discussion, that this study will end the debate over “cost-shifting” (the allegation that customer-generators unfairly pass costs to non-net metered customers). We see ending this debate as an important way for MREA to be able to fulfill our mission of expanding the use of renewable energy in Montana. HB219 was cited by multiple legislators as reason to wait on proactive legislation, even bi-partisan bills like HB504, which would have updated and expanded Montana’s net metering policies. We look forward to the opportunity to remove this roadblock that will allow Montana to take down the barriers restricting our renewable energy industry from moving forward.
Next Steps and how you can be involved
The PSC has chosen and hired a consultant to assist staff in putting together the minimum information requirements. A draft of these requirements has been put together, and the PSC has opened a public comment period. You can read the notice of opportunity to comment here. Public comments must be made by July 7, 2017
MREA staff are preparing more technical and detailed comments on the minimum information requirements which we will be submitting ahead of the July 7th deadline.
Support our efforts by asking the PSC to ensure NorthWestern Energy provides an open, transparent process and that the benefits, as well as the costs, of net metering are fairly represented in this study.
To submit public comments:
Public comments may be mailed or hand delivered to the Commission at 1701 Prospect Avenue, Helena, MT, 59620, or sent by email to firstname.lastname@example.org. You may download and use the optional comment form at http://psc.mt.gov (go to “Comment on Proceedings”). A copy of HB 219 is available for inspection at the Commission’s business offices and also on the Montana Legislature’s website.