The Battle for Net-Metering in Montana

Written By Dustin Rothenberg

On April 29, 2019

At a Glance:

A controversial proposed rate change put forth by NorthWestern Energy has the potential to cause significant harm to Montana's solar industry because of the rate structure for net-metered (NEM) customers in the state.

This morning I spent a good amount of time drafting a comment to be submitted to Montana’s Public Service Commission in objection to NorthWestern Energy’s proposed changes to net-metering in Montana.  This rate change is the first in ten years for NorthWestern Energy and has the potential to cause significant harm to the solar industry in our state because of the changes to the rate structure for net-metered (NEM) customers.  Essentially this proposal, if enacted, would increase the time it takes for a residential solar array to pay for itself enough that it has the potential to sway potential customers away from solar into better investments for their money.

Not only would this threaten the future of clean energy in Montana, but it potentially has other negative consequences for NorthWestern Energy’s customers that have already gone solar.  Sure, those who have already gone solar will be grandfathered into existing rate structures. However, what if the same folks choose to sell their home or decide to expand their solar arrays?  The grandfather clause is negated in the cases where there is a “new classification of service,” which would happen when there is a transfer of ownership or expansion of one’s system. This means that if you try to sell your house with a solar array, most likely your property would have less value than it would have had if the net-metering rate had not been changed.  Alternatively, if you invested in solar years ago with the idea of expanding your system in the future, you could lose some of the financial benefits of your system if you choose to do so. This proposed rate change not only affects new customers but existing customers as well.

At this time in our political discourse, it is important no matter where you stand on something to take that stand.  It is not only important to talk about this amongst family and friends, but it is critical that you make your voice heard to your elected representatives.  In that regard, I decided to take that stand and write about my concerns to the Public Service Commission of Montana and I have been encouraging our customers to do the same.  If we value the investments we have made in clean, renewable energy, then it is the least we can do.

Please visit the links below to learn more about the proposed rate changes through a summary written by the Montana Renewable Energy Association and then please submit a comment to the Public Service Commission via their website so that your voice will be heard.

Summary of Proposed Changes:

http://montanarenewables.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/11/NorthWestern-Energy-General-Electric-Rate-Case-Net-Metering-Summary-PUBLIC.pdf

Submit a Comment to the Public Service Commission:

http://psc.mt.gov/Documents-Proceedings/Comment-On-A-Proceeding

Montana State Capital Building
ground-mounted solar system
Dustin Rothenberg

About the Author

Dustin Rothenberg is an Electrical Apprentice and Service Manager for IPS. Previously, he worked Trail Crew for Yellowstone National Park and Golden Gate National Recreation Area for six years. He has completed both New Hampshire and Montana Conservation Corps. Dustin is a board member of a dance organization called the Downbeat Vintage Swing Society, which promotes vintage swing dancing in Bozeman. He takes copious amounts of dance lessons, from Rumba, Cha Cha, Salsa, vintage Swing, etc. and dances 3-5 nights per week.

1 Comment

  1. AR

    The issue is being more fair about the benefit of grid storage via Net Metering. Seems the focus should be just on that storage issue. I suggest:

    $0.01/kWh to spin a meter backwards at the moment it happens. Yearly settlement for kWh in/out of grid but storage fee paid monthly. Typical 10 panel 3kWp array in sunny spot makes ~450kWh/mo. Typical net zero array makes 5x consumption during 5 PkEqHr of the day so around 80% goes to the grid. 80% of 450kWh/mo = 360kWh/mo * $0.01/kWh=$3.60/month Net Metering storage fee. A well balanced net zero array will only add to the grid 6-8 months of the year so ~$25/yr storage fee.

    This also creates a little sanity check on building monstrous subsidized arrays and then expanding consumption to annual production.

    The proposed rate structure is at least +$25/mo + $5/mo meter = $360/yr. Getting close to battery life-cycle cost at 450 kWh/mo.

    Reply

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