Guest Column: Change needed to Montana energy law – Bozeman Daily Chronicle, Nov. 9, 2014

November 11, 2014

Categories: Clean Energy, Legislature, News

Our proposition is simple: Businesses and residents should have more opportunities to produce their own energy, and get credit for it from their utility.

Affordable, reliable, environmentally responsible energy is essential to the present and future economic health of Montana businesses and residents. Yet Montanans have remarkably few options when it comes to controlling their electric energy costs, and no choice at all from which utility they receive their electric service. That’s why the Montana Legislature passed the state’s net metering laws in 1999 with near unanimous support.

Net metering allows individuals to invest in their own small solar, wind and hydro systems to meet and offset their electric energy needs. When the wind is blowing or the sun is shining and these generators produce more energy than the owner is using, the extra electrons flow onto the power grid and are sold by the utility to the nearest neighbor. In turn, the owner of the net-metered facility is credited for excess power by turning his own meter backwards.

Net metering allows businesses and homeowners to take control of their energy use and fix an otherwise variable and uncertain cost. It also empowers individuals to invest their own dollars in clean energy without a government mandate — assuming the risks and reaping the benefits.

Unfortunately current Montana law sets arbitrary limits on the ability for consumers to produce and invest in their own energy. Net-metered systems are restricted to 50-kilowatts of generating capacity, more than large enough for a homeowner, but not big enough to meet the needs of many commercial operations. In fact, in our hometown we’ve seen a valued member of our local economy, Simms Fishing Products, limited to a 50-kilowatt solar array, when they might have preferred to install a larger system.

Customers with multiple meters also face needless obstacles. A farmer with a wind turbine metered at his barn, for instance, can’t offset the electric use from his irrigation pump if it’s on a separate utility meter, despite the fact that all of his energy needs are on his own property and all of the utility bills are in his name.

And if your roof is shaded or facing the wrong direction for solar power, or if you don’t have room for a wind turbine, or you don’t own your home, currently you are excluded from the opportunity of investing in an energy system to meet your own needs.

We would like to change these arbitrary barriers that are preventing Montanans from investing in clean and reliable energy systems. That’s why we support the 2015 Legislature passing the Local Energy Investment Act, which would provide Montana businesses and residents with more freedom to invest directly in their own energy supply. We want to allow for larger net-metered energy systems to meet the demands of small business and light industrial customers, because job creators shouldn’t have to suffer the uncertainty of rising electric costs if they are willing to take the risk of investing in their own energy. We want to allow more Montanans to secure their energy needs with clean, individually owned power, even if it is spread across multiple meters. And we want to give renters without the ability to site an energy system, and individuals without a suitable solar or wind resource of their own, the opportunity to buy a share in a locally installed energy system.

The Montana Legislature did the right thing when it passed our state’s net metering law in 1999. Since then over 1,000 small energy systems have been installed all across the state. The falling price of wind and solar production could spur more private investment in clean, local energy. The Local Energy Investment Act will help to expand the opportunities for small energy investment and extend some of our most commonly held Montana values further into our state’s approach to energy development: self-sufficiency, equal opportunity, sound economics, and good stewardship of the land.

Sen. (and Representative-elect) Art Wittich, a Republican, and Sen. Mike Phillips, a Democrat, are both Bozeman-area elected officials serving in the Montana Legislature.


220 South 27th Street, Suite A
Billings, Montana 59101
(406) 248-1154