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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Net Metering And "Vaping" Proposals Pitched To Lawmakers

Hearing room at the Montana Capitol.
William Marcus
Montana Public Radio

State lawmakers are being asked to increase the amount of power that customers can sell to their electric utility from their own solar or wind generators

It’s called net metering, and it’s a boon for alternative energy installers, or a threat to local power companies, depending on whom you ask.

In Montana, electric customers with their own solar panels or wind turbines can sell up to fifty kilowatts back to their power company. Brad van Wert runs an alternative-energy business in Gallatin, and supports raising that cap.

“Many companies and institutions are making solar a part of their corporate structure and many of those companies are operating right here in Montana. However they’re not pursuing these solar projects because of the 50-kilowatt cap.”

But the state’s largest power utility, NorthWestern Energy, is fighting the proposal. NorthWestern Spokesman, John Fitzpatrick, told a House committee this week that net metering is to the electric business what Obamacare is to health care:

“It’s a massive governmental intrusion into a private marketplace. It uses the coercive power of a government to require a utility funded by its customers to buy an inferior energy supply product at an exorbitant price.”

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Montana’s net metering limit of 50 kilowatts is one of the lowest in the country. About half of all states allow customers to sell a megawatt of power to their local grid, the same limit being proposed for Montana, and three states have no limit at all.

Meanwhile, a Missoula state senator wants the sellers of “e-cigarettes” and other nicotine-vapor products grouped in the same camp as tobacco merchants. A bill sponsored by Missoula Democrat Diane Sands is drawing opposition from the owners of “vaping” stores, including Lucas Anderson, who says the bill’s based on a misconception.

“This is not a gateway for tobacco use, I would also argue that this is not a product that promotes the use of more nicotine.”

Sands says her bill, which adds “electronic smoking devices” to the list of tobacco products regulated by the state, is targeted solely at keeping them out of the hands of children.

The Senate Business Committee heard testimony, but did not decide whether to recommend the bill to the full Senate.

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