Advocating for Clean Energy in the 2017 Legislative Session

AERO Energy Task Force Chair Jim Baerg attended legislative session meetings this week to testify on multiple bills affecting net metering and clean energy in Montana. Check out Jim’s write up below. Links are included to other great organizations and AERO partners working towards clean energy initiatives during the session and throughout the year.
From Jim Baerg:
I went to Helena Monday, January 9, with a carload of Northern Plains Resource Council (NPRC) people, including Ben Reed, to testify on HB52 and HB34.  I also visited with Brian Fadie, who is Montana Environmental Information Center‘s (MEIC) lobbyist, Jeff Fox, of Renewable NorthWest, Adam Haight, NPRC’s lobbyist, and Andrew Valainis, the new ED at Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA).
HB52 would grandfather in current rates for existing net metering customers. HB34 would allow government buildings in MT to install up to 250 kW systems, which is an increase over the current 50kW.
These two bills came out of the Interrum ETIC Committee which had been meeting over the last two years to sort out the conflict between the utilities and the Renewable Energy people over Net Metering.  The large issues between these two parties weren’t resolved, but they were able to put together these two bills.
So it was a pleasant surprise that NorthWestern Energy’s only opposition was to HB34.  They were joined by MDU. If HB34 is passed, there is good potential for a lot of big systems to be installed around the state, losing a lot of revenue for the utilities. Governments are building owners and historically have been pretty supportive of renewables.
Everyone else in the room, and the room was packed, was in favor of both bills. The testimony was substantial and informed, so I’m optimistic.
The underlying fight is over NWE’s defining of the problem with Net Metering.  They say that they pay retail rates for solar electricity, when they should be paying wholesale.  This amounts to a subsidy of rich customers by less well off customers.  It’s a very simple, politically effective argument. The real issue for them is that they are resisting competition, and lost revenues if others can generate electricity.  This issue has been studied in detail around the country in the last few years.  I presented a chart showing results of all 16 studies, which on average calculate that rooftop solar provides 16.35 cents per kWh of benefits to the system, to society and to the environment.
Republican Represenative Dan Zolnikov from Billings, who is the chair, sponsored both bills and supported them pretty vigorously. He seems to have a libertarian, free market perspective and repeatedly brought up the monopolistic status of the utilities. I was encouraged by his independence, arguments and persuasiveness.
Tuesday, SB1 and SB7 are up for consideration by the House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee. SB1 mandates advanced dual meters with communication capabilities to the utilities on PV systems and potential utility control of output.  SB7 prohibits renewable systems from subsidizing non-renewable customers.  All this depends on the definition of the costs and benefits of renewables to the the system. There was some talk, including by Zolnikov of having the PSC resolve this issue by doing a study which would kick the can down the road..
I asked Adam Haight, NPRC’s lobbyist, if they needed support today on these two bills.  He said that the enviro lobbyists would be there to testify and that there will be more appropriate times in the process to get additional testimony.
Other news:  NPRC is pushing PACE financing for energy conservation and renewables. This is a terrific solution to the cost barrier  and has been enacted in over 30 states.  Adam said that the Governor is strongly supportive, but wants to trade away the renewable funding side of the bill and keep conservation funding.  Ben Reed got pretty upset over that and pushed on Adam pretty hard.  Here’s some info on PACE.
Personally, I think that getting the PACE enabling legislation passed is a very high priority.  Please join me in strongly supporting this bill.
One of the points I made yesterday is that renewable energy, as a technology, has reached inevitable proportions and momentum world wide. There is a transition to be made and we need to work together, all parties, in search of the best solutions.  Just meeting the needs of a monopoly and out of state owners is not sufficient nor wise.
Please join AERO over the next several months to support our efforts promoting sane energy policy.  It’s pretty easy, interesting, and what citizens are meant to do in a democracy.
Best wishes in 2017

One thought on “Advocating for Clean Energy in the 2017 Legislative Session

  1. Very nice job, Jim….glad you are there to keep me up to date!


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