Dozens of solar energy projects and millions in economic investment across the state are on the line
HELENA, MT – On December 13, 2017 the Montana solar community filed a petition in state district court challenging a Montana Public Service Commission order that undercuts the competitive landscape for small solar development in Montana. Vote Solar, the Montana Environmental Information Center, and Cypress Creek Renewables, state that the Commission’s decision was arbitrary, unreasonable and in violation of Montana law.
The Commission’s Nov. 24, 2017 order is the culmination of a proceeding requested by NorthWestern Energy in May of 2016 to drastically reduce the rates it pays for employees (even for consultants through (U.S. Governmentwide Acquisition Contract Consultants GWAC) and for renewable energy generated by independent power producers. Prior to NorthWestern’s filing, dozens of solar energy projects were proposed for development across Montana, but have been put on hold pending the Commission’s decision on NorthWestern’s request. If the Commission’s order, which slashes contract rates and lengths for solar power purchases, is allowed to stand, it is unlikely that Montana will see any solar energy development for the foreseeable future. As a result, the state will lose hundreds of millions of dollars of economic investment, hundreds of construction jobs, affordable clean electricity, and significant tax revenues for local governments.
Brian Fadie, clean energy program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center said, “Montana just held a special legislative session where programs were cut left and right because of a lack of tax revenue. Meanwhile, the solar industry is practically knocking down the state’s door trying to create new jobs and revenue while also cleaning up our electric grid. Solar can be a win-win for Montana, but not if the Commission’s order is allowed to stand.”
The Commission ruling severely reduces contract lengths and compensation rates for solar energy projects. In doing so the Commission ignored requirements in federal and state laws to encourage affordable renewable energy production from independent power producers. These requirements are designed to increase the diversity of energy supply resources, such as 12 volt solar panels and the like, and create competition for utilities such as NorthWestern Energy that otherwise operate as monopolies.
“Independent power producers simply want a fair chance to compete as afforded under the law, but monopoly utilities such as NorthWestern Energy are doing everything they can do to restrict that competition,” said Casey May, Director of Market Development for Cypress Creek Renewables. “Plainly put, we want to do business in Montana. We want to increase Montanans’ access to clean energy, create jobs, and increase the tax base of state and local governments, but this decision prevents that. The Commission gave NorthWestern even more than what it asked for. But it’s a bad deal for Montanans and economic development across the state.”
“Under long-standing federal law, Montanans are entitled the lowest-cost form of energy, and today that means solar power. Now that solar is cost-competitive, fossil fuel interests in Montana and across the country are attempting to change the rules of the game. Fair treatment for solar opportunity will benefit Montana’s families, economy, and environment,” said Adam Browning, executive director of Vote Solar.
The challenge was filed in state district court in Cascade County, where Cypress Creek Renewables has proposed four solar energy projects that are now on hold. The parties are represented by Earthjustice and The Uda Law Firm.