Last week, Montana’s Public Service Commission issued a decision that effectively ends small-scale solar energy development in the state. On Tuesday, a hot mic caught Montana Commissioner Bob Lake stating that the decision would “take care of” killing solar development in the state. Vote Solar, a national solar advocacy organization that worked with Earthjustice and the Montana Environmental Information Center (MEIC) to try to clear the way for competitive local solar development, is critical of the decision.
“The Commission’s disappointing decision and the recorded conversation are a reminder that solar and clean energy will no longer have access to a level playing field in Montana,” said Ed Smeloff, managing regulatory director at Vote Solar. “The clear language of PURPA requires states to allow the development of local clean energy when solar and other renewables are competitive with polluting alternatives. Now that solar is cheaper than ever, Montana Commissioners should welcome solar businesses and their benefits to ratepayers, the economy and the environment. There is still time for the Montana Commission to correct its mistake.”
The Montana case is the latest in a series of attacks on the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), a longstanding federal law to encourage states to reduce dependence on fossil fuels by requiring utilities to purchase renewable energy when those clean sources come in at lower prices. Vote Solar and its partners had formally challenged the Commission’s 2016 decision to suddenly halt Northwestern Energy’s obligation to contract with solar developers complying with PURPA. The 2016 Montana Commission decision stalled the development of hundreds of megawatts of late-stage solar projects. Last week’s decision went a step further to ensure that solar won’t be able to compete in Montana’s energy market:
Limits solar projects to contracts with five year pricing, which will eliminate solar developers ability to get projects financed
Under-calculated Montana’s solar potential for meeting peak energy needs (capacity value) at 6%, which will drastically reduce how much solar developers are paid for the energy the produce. For comparison, neighboring states have capacity values between 28% and 51%.
Vote Solar plans to call on the Commission to reconsider its ill-advised decision to shorten the effective term of PURPA contracts to five years.
Watch the full recording of the conversation between Commissioner Lake and his staff in this Billings Gazette article: Hot mic records troubling conversation about solar regulations