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68th Montana Legislature: MREA’s Session in Review (so far)

The end of March not only marks the seasonal shift to spring in the northern hemisphere; it also marks that we are about 60% of the way through the 90-day Montana legislative session. Montana’s legislative session is the process through which locally elected officials  (elected by you, the voters) from all parts of Montana come together to pass laws that will impact our daily lives, and of course Montanans’ energy choices. Montana Renewable Energy Association’s mission includes advocacy as a guiding principle for our work. We believe in a world where renewable energy can power our lives and that of future generations for the better. Policies set by our lawmakers at the state level has a major influence over how that clean-energy transition can be achieved! MREA is an active participant in the legislative session as we educate lawmakers on how Montana’s energy policy choices effect our solar installers, energy efficiency trades professionals, families, business owners, nonprofits, and more in the renewable energy world. We also provide our members with key information on how our elected officials are voting, and ways you can tap in.

Below, executive director Makenna Sellers covers MREA’s legislative briefing from inside the hallways of the Capitol.

Officials gather in the Old Supreme Court chambers of the Capitol.

Ready for a tall order? Try characterizing the facets of the state legislative session in a phrase, a sentence, or a bullet point.! While renewable energy policy is THE place where MREA puts our energy during the legislative session, there are thousands of bills, resolutions, committee votes, and constituent dynamic data points playing out in the capitol every day. Our slice of the legislative session, so to speak, has had its fair share of bad bills, and a handful of good. The bad bills involve a series of attempts to blockade the clean energy transition in Montana through taxing large scale renewables; making it more challenging to do business as a local solar installer in Montana; stripping the power of local jurisdictions to plan for energy efficiency and electrification; and of course the recurring bill to devalue rooftop solar and net metering rates that are already determined through the Public Service Commission. The good bills included setting stronger energy efficiency and conservation standards; offering community solar to more Montanans and more business opportunities for community solar developers; and a tax credit for solar PV employee education and training. On the monitor list, we are watching the bills that study energy resource adequacy and energy generation planning that will be tackled over the interim.

Our top priority the first half of the session was House Bill 643, which would have cost Montana jobs and undermined future investment and savings in rooftop solar. The bill would have gutted the rate-making process our Public Service Commission - the regulatory agency that balances the interests of customers and monopoly utilities to create just and reasonable rates - could use to set net metering rates, aka grid-tied solar. The bill would have forced the PSC’s hand to devalue rooftop solar, despite a rigorous study and determination that was already done at the PSC through a 2018-2019 rate case. The bill also included a head-scratching provision to raise the net metering cap from 50 kW to 100 kW while devaluing rooftop solar at the time. MREA members and supporters saw through this bill with a discerning eye, and brought our concerns to the committee hearing. Lawmakers agreed that this was not the right policy for Montana, and the bill was tabled right before the transmittal deadline. There was a minor attempt made to revive the bad net metering bill, but that did not come to fruition thanks to MREA’s and our supporters comments to lawmakers.

Thank you to everyone who told lawmakers how HB 643 would have been a bad deal for customers, taxpayers, and energy choice. MREA will continue to engage with elected officials and stakeholders to open doors for distributed energy innovation. Increasing rooftop solar, batteries, and distributed power adoption must be part of Montana’s electricity reliability future.

Another bill on our radar is House Bill 524, which adds red tape and government mandates to Montana residential solar installers and distributors. This bill only applies to residential installs; commercial and utility scale solar installations are not included. The bill was heavily amended to now only require a restatement and disclosure of the solar panel “country of origin” to the end customer. Failure to comply could result in investigations from the Attorney General, up to $10,000 in fines, and 2 years in prison. This bill clearly goes beyond the pale on penalties to Montana small business owners. Country of origin listings are also already for this product through U.S. federal law enforced by Customs & Border Protection. If passed and signed by the governor, this bill would add more government without any clear enforcement or verification guidance for installers to follow. You hear the term “solution in search of a problem” tossed around at the capitol often. But, that is the best way to describe House Bill 524. This bill is still alive and we encourage you to write your Senators opposing HB 524.

MREA Board President Brad van Wert and Executive Director Makenna Sellers at the Capitol in February.

In the realm of local control, House Bill 241 bans the future adoption of Montana State building codes that allow for EV and solar design integration. MREA opposes this bill as a “work harder, not smarter” concept that will make home electrification most costly for hard working Montanans.

Increasing taxes on utility scale renewable energy projects was a big topic this session, much like in 2021. The two bill proposals, SB 97 and HB 454, would have increased taxes on large scale renewables five-fold. Lawmakers recognized that taxing renewable development out of existence would make our energy generation market uncompetitive, and rural Montana would lose out on the revenue streams and jobs from these projects. Both bills were tabled in committee.

A pro-business and pro-renewable energy access bill MREA supported this session was Senate Bill 399, which would have enabled subscription-based community scale solar projects in more parts of Montana. Community solar is gaining momentum in other states as a way for families to invest in clean energy savings, and breaks down barriers to solar access for those who rent, have modest electricity use, or donot have the structural environment suitable to installer solar on their roof or owned property. This bill nearly passed committee on a tie vote but was ultimately tabled this session.

The big themes of the 68th Legislature from Jan - March have been handling the budget surplus, finding ways to address the affordable housing crunch, and a suite of “will they? won’t they” referenda to amend the Montana State Constitution. One draft, LC2385, would have considered changing our right to a clean and healthful environment. Montana Renewable Energy Association teamed up with our allies in conservation and public lands to make sure our right to a clean and healthful environment in Montana is protected. But we will stay vigilant, especially leading up to the second transmittal deadline for appropriations, revenue bills, and referenda to move by April 4th. Taking stock of energy policy proposals as a whole these past few months, I can say that both the House and Senate Energy Committees have been markedly quieter this session compared to past legislative years.

An important caveat to keep in mind is nothing is certain until sine die. Sine die is the official adjournment of the legislative assembly; that is currently scheduled for May 4, 2023. MREA will stay vigilant and continue to track amendments and anything else that could be proposed on renewables and distributed generation in the final days of the session. You can support our education and advocacy work by joining as a member! Visit for more.

Ready to be involved in MREA's citizen advocacy? Here’s how:

Action Alerts. Keep an eye on your email the remainder of the session for our action alerts. Check regularly to make sure they're not going to your 'spam' folder. Plus, help us reach more Montanans by forwarding our email action alerts to your friends and colleagues during the Session. You can sign up for our action alerts here.

Donate to support our efforts. MREA is a small organization, and lobbying at the Capitol is expensive. MREA is often working against large lobbyist groups that can spend thousands of dollars and hire teams of lobbyists. Every donation to MREA allows us to work that much harder to defend Montana's renewable energy policies. Donate here.

Join MREA as a member. The larger our voice, the louder we speak (HB359 is a great example of the success this can lead to!). We work directly with our members to engage them in our lobbying and citizen advocacy efforts. Make sure your membership is up to date, and if you're not yet a member join our community to get the insider scoop!

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