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Bob Rowe's Response to an Automated Email

Jan 28, 2015 |

Thank you for the email!  Let me explain to you why we’re opposing the net metering bills now in the Montana Legislature.  We're not suggesting change that would affect any current net metered customer or even to change what is in place today.  

NorthWestern Energy is the only utility in Montana that is required to allow net metering on our system and nearly all of the systems are residential solar.  A typical net metered customer installs solar panels on their home using a combination of federal and state tax credits, and a NorthWestern Energy customer funded Universal System Benefit (USB) grant to offset the cost of the installation.  Unless they’re using a very expensive battery backup system, a net metered customer takes power from the grid when they need it and places power on the grid when they’re systems are producing more than they need. 

When they’re generating more they use, net-metered customers receive a kilowatt/hour credit in the amount equal to the total bundled kilowatt hour cost paid by all customers.   This includes not only the electricity supply cost, it includes the cost of maintaining the grid, property taxes, and the USB charge that probably helped fund their system in the first place.  The credit is around 11.8 cents a kilowatt hour even though the actual cost of the energy supply that they're offsetting is 6.7 cents.  So a net metered customer is receiving full service and not paying their fair share of the cost of it. 

In its current form, the inequities are real but tolerable.  However, if allowed to expand in size, the inequities quickly become intolerable.  The benefits flow to the customers who can afford the installation and the remaining customers are left paying the bill.  It’s a dramatic transfer of wealth between customers with the utility essentially stuck in the middle, and it is the reality now facing states like California that allowed bad policy to expand unchecked. 

We support a measured approach that addresses these inequities now, before they become a problem.  Montana can be a leader in cost-effective home based renewable energy generation that is fair to all through new rate structures, reimbursing net metered customers for the actual cost of the energy they produce, and making sure the grid is well maintained to the benefit of all customers.   We believe in fair energy policy that benefits all, not one that rewards a few at the expense of the rest. 

I hope that you will join us in advocating for a collaborative effort that brings together all stakeholders in this issue to find common ground that is fair and equitable to all.   It can be done, but the same advocates of the legislative bills mentioned in this email have so far refused our offer. 


Bob Rowe

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