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Advancing the conversation around solar in Montana

Aug 01, 2016 |

As the level of awareness and interest in private solar installations increase in Montana, we’re working with renewable energy and consumer advocates, as well as legislators to establish balanced policies that allow private solar to expand but not at the expense, either in the form of cost or reliability, of other customers.

We actually agree on several key components. For example, policy changes that impact the economics of private solar (also call net-metering) shouldn’t apply to customers with existing systems. They installed their systems based on the economic benefits available to them at the time of installation and changing the rules of the game for them after the fact isn’t fair.  We also agree that administrative rules and requirements should be reviewed and updated by the Public Service Commission on a regular basis and that the commission should evaluate alternative metering technologies for customers based on grid operability, reliability and billing considerations.

Areas still under discussion include goals and objectives to help guide balanced public policy approaches for private and universal solar resources distributed across the service area.  Underlying this discussion are specific questions, such as, how to structure rates so that so customers who choose to install private solar systems can sell back excess energy at a competitive rate that reflects the value to other customers as opposed to above-market rates that result in higher costs for all customers.   Or, the easier way of saying it, is a separate rate class so that each customer – regardless of their energy source of choice – is paying a fair price for how they use the grid and receiving the appropriate economic signals to make good decisions.

In order to address the balanced policy issue, we need to start answering these questions.  And the answers rely on data that doesn’t exist yet. So, we’re discussing methods of how to gather data in order to develop a thorough cost benefit analysis. We believe that a contested docket in front of the Montana Public Service Commission is the best way to vet any analysis that would be conducted and that it should be done prior to any legislative policy changes that substantially alter the current statute.

And, because it bears remembering, our energy comes from mostly wind and run-of-river water (about 60% in total) generation. So, if you’re interested in installing private solar to be more environmentally friendly keep in mind that the energy you want to displace is already far cleaner than most states' “lofty” renewable goals and priced well below the national average.

We believe that progress is being made on this important issue and a lot of people representing all aspects of this issue have been, and will continue to, put in a lot of time and thoughtful work towards developing balanced private solar policies that benefit all Montanans in the future.

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