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Renewable Energy Groups Sue Over Montana's Solar Power Regulations

Solar panels.
Solar panels.

Environmental groups and renewable energy companies are suing Montana regulators in an attempt to strike down new rules that limit how they can sell solar energy.

Renewable energy advocates say a recent order from the Public Service Commission violates state and federal law and unfairly targets their industry, a notion that state regulators reject.

The PSC’s late November order revises how much small solar developers can charge for the  power they generate, and the length of contracts at that price.

The Montana Environmental Information Center’s Brian Fadie says the regulators’ actions put a burden on solar startups by slashing their rates from 66 dollars per megawatt hour to about $31 per megawatt hour.

"It makes it extremely difficult for solar developers to actually build these projects," he says.

Fadie says if the PSC order is allowed to stand it will result in Montana losing economic investments, jobs, and affordable clean energy.

MEIC is joined in the suit filed in state court Wednesday by the California based advocacy group Vote Solar, and Cypress Creek Renewables, a developer with locations in California, Arizona, and North Carolina.

PSC spokesman Chris Puyear says the commission is protecting utility ratepayers from long contracts that can leave them paying above market value for electricity. 

“This lawsuit really lacks merit. Who should bear the risk associated with building a new energy project? Should consumers bear 100 percent of that risk, or should the developer share some of that?”

Earlier this month, NorthWestern Energy, the state’s largest utility, told the Billings Gazette that the company was also opposed to shorter energy contracts because it would make developing new power plants difficult.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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