Getting to know the E+ Renewable Energy Program for Nonprofits and Civic Facilities

Written By Dan Perata

On April 7, 2020

At a Glance:

NorthWestern Energy's E+ Renewable Energy Program provides funding for the installation of renewable energy systems on nonprofit or government/public buildings with the aim of increasing the visibility of such technologies to a broader audience.

With any new technology, there are phases of adoption that gradually take it from obscurity into the mainstream. The key to moving to more wide-spread adoption is making sure a broader audience sees the technology over time. As visibility increases, new audiences will be introduced to the technology who will, in turn, bring its benefits to wider and wider circles and continue the virtuous cycle.

For solar technologies, adoption over the past decade has been nothing short of extraordinary. As more and more homes and businesses install solar power systems, communities are benefitting, and the clean energy transition is accelerating. However, there is still a fair amount of work to be done to increase solar energy adoption locally, across the country, and around the world. This is especially true with groups like nonprofits who may face additional financial hurdles like the inability to take advantage of certain solar incentives.

To support not-for-profit organizations and other civic or governmental organizations who may find the upfront investment in solar cost-prohibitive, specialized programs and funds have been created around the country to offer grants, incentives, and other forms of funding to help with installation costs. One such program here in Montana, the E+ Renewable Energy Program, provides funding for the installation of renewable energy systems on nonprofit or government/public buildings with the aim of increasing the visibility of such technologies to a broader audience.

Northwestern Energy’s E+ Renewable Energy Program

NorthWestern Energy (NWE) provides semi-annual funding to its customers looking to install qualifying renewable energy projects through its E+ Renewable Energy Program. The E+ program is designed to support projects that provide an educational and visible representation of renewable energy technologies by tapping into a limited amount of Universal System Benefits (USB) funding.

Incentives are available to qualifying commercial electric customers of NorthWestern with the final determination of eligibility resting on a project’s application and ability to meet the utility’s program requirements. In addition to meeting NorthWestern’s Interconnection Standards at the time of installation, potential projects must meet several other program requirements.

  • Projects must be either a nonprofit or government/public/civic building.
  • Projects must be installed by a NorthWestern Energy Renewable Energy Qualified Installer.
  • Projects may not exceed a nameplate capacity of 50 kilowatts (kW) Alternating Current (AC).
  • Projects must be net-metered.
  • Projects must include a proposal and cover letter containing the applying organization’s name, contact information, and a short project summary.
Bozeman Public Library Solar Panels
ground-mounted solar system

Projects are selected based upon additional criteria, including the proposed system’s geographical location, participant match (at least 10%), estimated system maintenance, and educational value. For demonstrating educational value, it is recommended to have a detailed plan for how the project will provide educational benefits. For geographic location, renewable energy systems installed in areas of low solar penetration (i.e., outside of Bozeman and Missoula) generally have the easiest time qualifying for funding. Off-grid installations inside NorthWestern Energy’s service territory are not eligible for the program due to the net-metering requirements.

Projects that are not selected in a given round of funding may apply again in a future cycle. Proposals are considered twice a year in the spring and fall. Spring proposals are due no later than 5 p.m. MST on May 1 and fall proposals are due no later than 5 p.m. MST on November 1. For full program details, please refer to the E+ Renewable Custom Incentive Proposal Requirements for Nonprofit or Government/Public Buildings page of the NorthWestern Energy website.

Montana’s Universal System Benefits Program

The limited funds available in each cycle of the E+ Renewable Energy Program come from the Universal System Benefits (USB) program, established in 1997 by the Montana legislature as part of an energy deregulation law. The USB requires all of Montana’s public utilities and rural cooperatives to contribute a portion of their annual revenue to fund low-income energy assistance programs, renewable energy development, research, weatherization, and other energy efficiency activities in the state.

In 1997, the USB contribution required for utilities was set at 2.4% of their 1995 revenues. Today, NorthWestern Energy collects more than $9 million in USB surcharges from its electricity customers (roughly $1 per month per residential customer), with nearly $1.2 million going to the development of renewable energy projects in their territory.

St. James Episcopal Church Solar System

Choosing an NWE Renewable Energy Qualified Installer

The E+ Renewable Energy Program requires that all projects be installed by a NorthWestern Energy Renewable Energy Qualified Installer. These installers are professionals who have gone through rigorous safety and installation training, including training in First Aid and CPR. Qualified Installers also must be in good standing with the utility and maintain a current Journeyman or Master Electrician on staff as well as a current contractor license with the State of Montana.

Independent Power Systems is one of NorthWestern Energy’s Renewable Energy Qualified Installers in addition to being the only SunPower Elite Solar Dealer in Montana—a designation that requires additional standards and advanced training to achieve. If you are a nonprofit or civic organization interested in getting solar and taking advantage of the E+ Renewable Energy Program, contact one of our Commercial Solar Specialists today to begin your application. Hurry though, the deadline for spring submissions is May 1 at 5 p.m. MST! Fill out the form below to get started or give us a call at (406) 587-5295.

Start Your Project

    Dan Perata

    About the Author

    Dan Perata knows solar, from the clean room to the boardroom. A world traveler who studied abroad and received an MBA from Boise State University, Dan used his experiences and knowledge first as a consultant and then later to start, build, and sell his own businesses. After the sale of his last business (a large production sourdough bakery), Dan decided to focus on renewable energy by starting his solar training at Solar Energy International about 10 years ago. He then worked at multiple solar companies before joining IPS in Montana as regional manager.


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