Press Release: PSC rejects NorthWestern Energy proposal to penalize Montana solar customers

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: November 25, 2019

Northern Plains members celebrate a big victory for solar energy outside the PSC.

HELENA, Mont – In a much anticipated decision on Monday, the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) voted unanimously to reject a proposal from NorthWestern Energy attempting to place unfair, punitive charges on Montana’s residential solar customers.

The decision comes as a part of the 2019 Rate Case filed last spring by NorthWestern Energy. Members of Northern Plains Resource Council have spent the last year urging the PSC to reject NorthWestern Energy’s proposal for a new rate structure for residential solar customers, known as net-metering customers.

“We’re elated with today’s decision,” said Northern Plains Member Ed Gulick, “We’ve always agreed that all customers need to pay their fair share for the services they use. However, the rate changes proposed by NorthWestern Energy were an attempt to place punitive charges on net-metered residential solar systems that have nothing to do with actual impacts to other ratepayers. Their intent was clearly to prevent any new residential solar systems from being installed. Hopefully, today’s decision is a signal that the PSC is not willing to bow to NorthWestern’s every whim. The public interest was truly served today.”

In the spring of 2018, NorthWestern Energy was tasked by the legislature to conduct a study of the costs and benefits to the Montana electricity grid provided by net-metering customers. The final study, released to the public in March of 2018, raised numerous concerns from Northern Plains members, renewable energy advocacy groups, and legislators. Despite questions regarding the fairness, accuracy, and transparency of the study, the resulting conclusions led NorthWestern Energy to seek complex rate changes for residential solar customers in Montana.

According to Northern Plains members, any rate change resulting from the study should be rejected. “NorthWestern prevented virtually any public oversight by using a modelling system that only they had the rights to use. Even elementary school math teachers tell their students ‘you won’t get credit unless you show your work,’” said Roxa Reller, a member of Northern Plains in her comments before the Commission on Monday. “We cannot in good conscience make any decisions on net metering based on a study where NorthWestern Energy refuses to show their work.”

In a memo dated November 22, 2019 PSC Staff acknowledge that NorthWestern Energy failed to comply with “significant elements of the Commission’s Minimum Information Requirements for its net metering benefit-cost analysis.”

After months of writing comments, making calls, sending postcards, and testifying,  members of Northern Plains packed into the PSC’s Monday work session to give public comment and bear witness to the decision from the Commissioners.

“Today’s decision is an example of what can happen when people come together to stand up against the interests of corporations and demand a say in the decisions that impact their lives,” said Reller.