Montana Public Radio

Montana Supreme Court Sides With Solar Developers On Rates

Aug 25, 2020
Originally published on August 24, 2020 7:02 pm

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.

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