Report: Montana’s Biggest Utility Company Is Overpaying For Rooftop Solar Energy

REUTERS/Kimberly White

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Jason Hopkins Immigration and politics reporter
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A Montana utility company is overpaying customers involved in its net metering program by about three times the energy value they are putting in, a recent study revealed.

Net metering, a system in which customers who generate their own electricity though solar panels can send excess power back to the grid, has been a growing practice among residential and commercial buildings as the cost for solar panels has dropped. Net metering ultimately saves customers money as they are compensated for the energy sent back into the grid.

NorthWestern Energy, Montana’s largest utility company, conducted an analysis of their net metering program. The findings showed customers were exceedingly reimbursed. The analysis, reported by Billings Gazette, revealed that the value of energy rooftop solar delivered back onto the grid to be approximately four cents per kilowatt hour. The problem: this is around a third of what net metering customers are getting paid for.

Over 2,000 NorthWestern Energy customers in Montana are using some source of renewable energy.

The conversation taking place in Montana is similar to debates taking place across the country as policy makers wrestle with the pros and cons of net metering, a system that can expand non-renewable energy use, but is still dependent on state government subsidies. A possible solution in Montana’s case would be for net metering customers to foot more of the bill to participate in the program.

Future reforms will likely take place. The state legislature, which initiated the study in their 2017 session, has been curious as to whether the program unfairly defers costs to other customers. NorthWestern says it welcomes debate on the issue.

“We have submitted the study to the Montana Public Service Commission, as the legislation required. We expect the topic to be part of an electric rate review we will seek in Montana later this year,” Butch Larcombe, a spokesman for NorthWestern, said in a statement Monday to The Daily Caller News Foundation.

“NorthWestern Energy is not opposed to renewable energy or customer-owned solar generation. Under the current rules, customer generators are often able to avoid much of the cost of maintaining the electric grid, which they continue to use,” he added. “The result of this situation is that our non-net metering customers pay more than their share to maintain the grid. We believe all of our customers should pay their fair share to use the energy grid.”

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