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Montana Supreme Court Sides With Solar Developers On Rates

Rooftop solar panel
Michael Mazengarb
Rooftop solar panel

The Montana Supreme Court Monday, Aug. 24 sided with solar power developers who accused regulators and the state’s largest utility of trying to block renewable energy projects.

Justices upheld a lower court ruling that said state regulators knew their actions would hurt solar development when they suspended a federal law requiring companies to buy power from alternative energy sources.

Attorneys for solar developers accused utility NorthWestern Energy of wanting to kill third-party energy development. A member of the Montana Public Service Commission was caught on a microphone acknowledging as much.

EarthJustice Lawyer Jenny Harbine represented Montana Environmental Information Center and Vote Solar in the case. She says NorthWestern was trying to reduce the compensation it gives to solar and wind resources.

“The Montana Supreme Court decision today should put an end to those attacks,” she says.

The original case was based on the rates and length of contract between NorthWestern Energy and solar developers, who said the rates would have hurt the economic feasibility of small solar projects and violated the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act.

In a statement to YPR, Montana Public Service Commission lawyers wrote they disagree with several aspects of the Court’s decision on this complex issue, adding commissioners and staff will discuss the decision in the coming days and consider next steps.

Copyright 2020 Yellowstone Public Radio

Kayla Desroches reports for Yellowstone Public Radio in Billings. She was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, and stayed in the city for college, where she hosted a radio show that featured serialized dramas like the Shadow and Suspense. In her pathway to full employment, she interned at WNYC in New York City and KTOO in Juneau, Alaska. She then spent a few years on the island of Kodiak, Alaska, where she transitioned from reporter to news director before moving to Montana.
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