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Montana politics, elections and legislative news.

Tie Vote Stalls Bill Supporting More Solar Energy Development In Montana

Solar panel installation.
Wayne National Forest (CC-BY-2)
Solar panel installation.

After supporters of the so-called Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom Act rallied in the state Capitol yesterday in support of more solar energy development, legislation to do so stalled in committee today on a tie vote.

House Bill 504 failed to get enough votes to move out of the House Energy Technology and Federal Relations committee.

Missoula Democrat Bryce Bennett’s bill looked to have some bipartisan support earlier this week, but today managed to gain the support of only one republican in the committee, preventing the legislation from moving forward.

The committee’s republican Vice Chair Derek Skees, from Kalispell, said this bill would create incentives for more solar development, but end up costing people who don’t have solar panels more money. The state’s largest utility, Northwestern Energy, says it costs more for them to buy and distribute solar power than hydroelectric or coal-fired electricity.

"It requires another company to burden their assets to work," says Skees. "They don’t have anyway to transit this power."

Labor unions across the state also opposed the bill. But it’s supporters, including Democrat Sharon Stewart-Peregoy, from Crow Agency, say HB 504 would lead to greater solar generation, because people with home solar panels can sell excess power see their electric meters run backwards when they do. She says many Montanans want that.

"We have to start looking at smart metering, we really do," says Stewart-Peregoy. "Because there is a demand out there, the people want this, and we really have to starting looking at this. So I’m in support of this bill."

The committee's eight-eight tie vote means the bill will not move on for further debate,  unless a supermajority of House lawmakers vote for the bill to be blasted on the House floor.

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