Energy Montana Politics

Power to the People, Not


Two “net metering” bills died in committee in the Montana Senate and it appears the two pending in the Montana House are headed for the same fate.

Net metering is the credit you get from the power company when your alternative power system — home or business solar, wind, hydro — generates more electricity than you can use and the excess is added to the grid.

The senate bills would have expanded net-metering systems from the paltry 50 kilowatts that is currently allowed by law.  (A 100-watt light bulb turned on for ten hours a day for 50 days would be 50 kilowatts.)

I’m still waiting for the roll call vote on these bills but the Lee Newspapers State Bureau reports that it was mostly along party lines: Republicans, nay; Democrats, yea.  This is interesting because Republicans sponsored two of the four bills.

According to the story, Ben Brouwer, policy director for the Montana Renewable Energy Association, said he’s disappointed that NorthWestern is “standing in the way of Montana families and businesses being given more options to control their energy bills with rooftop solar.”

He also said it’s ironic that senators accused net-metering supporters of not compromising, when NorthWestern has declared it will kill any bills this session to expand net metering.

Boo-hoo.  Our energy companies won’t be getting quite as much profit as they do now with their monopoly on generation and distribution.

I remember 18 years ago when the old Montana Power Company rammed energy deregulation through the legislature.  What a fiasco.  Now it’s Northwestern Energy’s turn to hurt consumers, and while it’s at it,  the environment.

UPDATE: Net metering would be good for Missoula.



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  • Pete, I think the 50-kilowatt limit refers to the power of the array, not to the number of kilowatt hours generated. One of Wittich’s bills would boost the array limit to one megawatt, making commercial scale installation on the rooftops of big box scores possible. Such installations are common in southwestern states and some are up to five megawatts in size.

    Northwestern wants to be the only entity to own significant power generation in its service area, and thus regards wind and solar, and distributed generation, as a threat, not an opportunity. For Northwestern, it’s still 1955.

  • How do net-metering customers pay their fair share of infrastructure costs that are otherwise built into standard rates?

    • Um, it was called DEREG, craig. Is Booby Gannon still living on his island in Flathead Lake? Maybe Fred Thomass could pony up! Come ON, dude. We’ve been screwed for a loooong time now by you folks. You see, when Mt. Power pays BACK all them folks who lost their life savings, we’ll listen to your bullshit! Any other questions I can answer for you?

      • How do net-metering customers pay their fair share of infrastructure costs that are otherwise built into standard rates?

        • Wow. Really? Really? You’re REALLY gonna worry about folks who are NOT contributing to the destruction of infrastructure costs by producing their own power?? Wow. Just wow. How farsighted of you. You see, anything that eases the burden on infrastructure costs should be welcomed by the power brokers, no? Sheesh. Allow folks some freedom here.

          • How do net-metering customers pay their fair share of infrastructure costs that are otherwise built into standard rates?

          • Craig, if indeed Northwestern Energy needs some rate adjustments to insure infrastructure costs are equitably shared, that’s what the PSC is for. Pass the bills that expand net metering, see how it shakes out. Northwestern has always had a friends at the PSC.

    • Most electric utilities assess a base charge for infrastructure, and an energy charge for the juice sent through the wires. Net meterers still pay the base charge, and from an infrastructure wear and tear standpoint, it doesn’t matter which direction the juice flows. The infrastructure cost objection is a red herring.

      What this is really about is whether the utility should purchase net metered electricity at the full retail price of the juice, or at a lower rate such as the avoided cost. Some utilities seem to want to make sure net metered systems never pay for themselves.

      From an energy security standpoint, distributed generation is much more robust than single point generation — but single point generation is the traditional utility model, and the utilities intend to stick with it until Hell freezes over, or the rivers of Hades boil dry from global warming; after that, too.

      • I guess it depends on the state.

        ago. While net metering policies vary by state, customers with rooftop solar or other DG systems usually are credited at the full retail electricity rate for any electricity they sell to electric companies via the grid. The full retail electricity rate
        includes not only the cost of the power but also all of the fixed costs of the poles, wires, meters, advanced technologies, and other infrastructure that make the electric grid safe, reliable, and able to accommodate solar panels or other DG systems. Through the credit,net-metered customers effectively are avoiding paying these costs for the grid..

        …when rooftop solar or other DG customers generate electricity, they avoid paying for the utility’s power, which is fair because they did not use it. But, they also avoid paying for all of the fixed costs of the grid that delivers power when they need it and takes the power they sell back to the utility. As a result, these grid costs are shifted to those customers without rooftop solar or other DG systems through higher
        utility bills.
        It has been an issue in Hawaii.

        • Craig, the utility gets to sell the power to another customer – that power which they did NOT generate. Also, they avoid line losses and all kinds of other generating costs because the power put into the grid by the solar generators is free to the utility company. Therefore, a net gain and more than offsets any “costs for the grid” since this power generally only travels a very short distance. Which is why, when the Northwestern reps were questioned about this at the hearing, they danced around the subject every which way, avoided answerring the question, and referred to line losses, and all kinds of other technical issues to confuse the issue. The actual answer of course is that that net metering is a net win for the utility since they are the recipient of free power from the solar and wind generators.

          In California, the utility is guaranteed a minimum, set profit margin, and the utility is required to purchase all power generated by solar and wind generators – both private individuals and businesses

          Here in Montana we are miles away from that. NorthWestern is doing a great job of lobbying to get all of the free power from private generators it can at no cost to itself.

  • speaking of deregulation, the effort to deregulate taxi service championed by Rep Hill is going to allow the bastards at Uber to exploit more markets. look how they took advantage of the hostage situation in Sydney:

    Fresh controversy struck Uber on Monday after the car service raised prices in Sydney’s central business district (CBD) amid an ongoing hostage situation at a cafe there.

    The firm made the announcement on Twitter while up to 40 people were being held by a gunman and hundreds of Australian police were mobilized over fears of a terrorist attack.

    We are all concerned with events in CBD. Fares have increased to encourage more drivers to come online & pick up passengers in the area.

    Users of the services immediately expressed outrage on the social network as fares were reported to reach $100 Australian dollars (about $80) for a ride.

  • We live off the grid just south of Santa Fe. Why people bother with net-metering at all makes no sense to me: a far better alternative is to build your own systems incrementally and urge your provider to move away from burning fossils for powers.

    LK is right, the PSC and utilities is fraught with conflicts of interest as it is throughout the West.

    Brookings, South Dakota owns its own utilities.

    Billings could transitioning to wind and solar with ease, Helena and Bozeman sit over magma powered boilers, Missoula really should consider an advanced biomass and plastics to fuel concepts.

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Pete Talbot

'Papa’ Pete Talbot is first and foremost a grandfather to five wonderful grandchildren. Like many Montanans, he has held numerous jobs over the years: film and video producer, a partner in a marketing and advertising firm, a builder and a property manager. He’s served on local and statewide Democratic Party boards. Pete has also been blogging at various sites for over a decade. Ping-pong and skiing are his favorite diversions. He enjoys bourbon.

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