Serious issues with Montana renewable energy law implementation
HELENA – November 22, 2018
Montana is considered one of the “pioneer” states in the field of renewable energy sources, yet, a number of issues have emergedas some companies operating windmills across the state don’t seem to be very law-abiding.
For instance, Montana’s Public Service Commission and the state’s largest utility are now being sued over their handling of the state’s renewable energy law, and the Montana Environmental Information Center sued the PSC and NorthWestern Energy for not developing community renewable energy projects as spelled out in the law.
This leads us to one of two different conclusions, and both are pretty bad for the state: Either the local law is too unrealistic and the suppliers aren’t ready to fulfill their obligations, or they simply don’t want to do so.
Both NorthWestern and PSC representatives have said that the MEIC lawsuit is without merit. Why do they think so? NorthWestern is obligated to green up its generation supply by building or buying community renewable energy projects, or CREPs.
“The reality is, the law does require the commission to consider whether a utility has taken all reasonable steps within its control and if we find they have not, the commission shall impose a penalty,” State Commissioner Travis Kavulla said. Kavulla also didn’t think NorthWestern had done enough, and he faulted NorthWestern for putting time restraints on CREP projects that assured they couldn’t meet the deadline.
The law, which has been on the books since 2005, promotes theconstruction of smaller renewable energy projects all across the state, which is also an important part of a bigger plan requiring utilities to get a small percentage of their electricity from renewable energy projects.
As of today, NorthWestern is on the hook for 65.4 megawatts from CREPs, but for five years in a row Montana’s Public Service Commission has given the monopoly utility a waiver, and even despite the position of MEIC that states that these waivers have never been issued, the company has serious concerns about the future work within Montana.
MEIC is asking a Cascade County District Court to order NorthWestern to acquire community renewable energy projects. The group also wants the court to compel the PSC to enforce the law, including fining NorthWestern for 2015 and 2016 when the utility didn’t meet the requirements. The Public Service Commission staff has estimated NorthWestern’s penalty for noncompliance would have been $1.2 million for each year it received a waiver, which is considered to be a significant loss for the company.