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Committee weighs the benefits and costs of net metering law

At the September meeting of the Montana Legislature’s Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee (ETIC), MREA’s Policy Director, Ben Brouwer, presented a preliminary evaluation of the economic impact from net metering on NorthWestern Energy ratepayers and the state’s economy. The message to Legislators from MREA was clear: the economic benefit of net metering far outweighs the costs.

The Committee’s study of net metering, triggered by the passage of Senate Joint Resolution 12 in the 2015 Legislature, has entered the data gathering phase. At the committee’s request, electric utilities, the electrical workers’ union and renewable energy industry groups submitted responses on September 1 to a series of questions pertaining to net metering costs, benefits, safety, interconnection standards, reliability, etc.

You can download MREA’s full response here. For an updated version of MREA’s ratepayer cost/benefit analysis, click here. Responses from other parties are posted here.

Modelling by MREA showed energy savings, economic activity, ratepayer benefits and avoided costs from greenhouse gas emissions outweighed the costs of state tax credits, USB incentives, integration costs and lost utility revenue by a ratio of 4 to 1. Demonstrating these benefits is an important step in debunking the misleading argument used by utilities that net metering creates an unfair “cost shift.”

What’s next?

The interim committee has reached out to staff of the Montana Consumer Counsel, Public Service Commission and Department of Environmental Quality for assistance analyzing the responses and data received to-date. MREA will provide a detailed analysis and critique of utility responses before the committee’s next meeting on January 15, 2016.

At the January meeting ETIC is expected to begin narrowing in on conclusions about the fairness of net metering and recommendations for the 2017 Legislature. Possible conclusions could include: 1) endorse some or all of MREA’s proposed legislation to expand net metering; 2) recommend that the 2017 Legislature leave the statute as-is; 3) recommend that the 2017 Legislature fund a detailed cost-benefit analysis of net metering and delay any changes to the law pending results of a detailed study; 4) recommend that the 2017 Legislature add extra charges for net metering customers or reduce the value of net metering credits below the retail rate.

Stay tuned for more updates and action alerts as the net metering interim study unfolds.

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