Recently, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) unanimously rejected a petition from an anti-renewable energy group that attempted to bring a swift and sudden end to rooftop solar across the country, including in Montana. The issue at hand was net metering, a state policy that allows rooftop solar owners to receive credits on their utility bills for excess energy they generate and send back to the grid for their neighbors to use.
Net metering has fueled growth in Montana’s rooftop solar industry and around the country. But despite the well-known benefits of renewable energy – including financial savings, economic stimulus, and energy resilience – this policy has experienced a continuous onslaught at the state and federal level. Fortunately, FERC dismissed the punitive petition and net metering lives to fight another day, but barriers remain to Montana reaching our full rooftop solar potential.
The public comment FERC received tells a compelling story. More than 57,000 comments were submitted opposing the attempt to eliminate net metering and demolish rooftop solar – including 30 state public utility commissions, 35 members of Congress, and 31 attorney generals. Only about 20 supported it.
This overwhelming response confirms that support for rooftop solar and net metering is bipartisan and strong. We want to thank the hundreds of Montanans, our Attorney General, and our State Energy Office for adding their names to those 57,000 who helped protect rooftop solar and who continue to believe in its value to our economy and our communities.
Unfortunately, despite the overwhelming support Montana continues to see our own share of attacks on rooftop solar and net metering, both at the Legislature and Public Service Commission. While Montanan’s have stood up each time and defended our right to produce our own energy, these battles have consumed time and resources that would be better spent improving the industry and expanding affordable clean energy access to more Montanans.
It has been more than 20 years since Montana adopted our net metering policy, during which time solar technology has advanced tremendously. Sadly, our solar policies have not changed and continue to inhibit the growth of the industry. The time has come to modernize Montana’s policies, to unlock the benefits of rooftop solar for more people.
Schools, libraries, churches, and small businesses are currently needlessly restricted from saving money by an artificial and outdated size restriction on net metered systems. Many of Montana’s utility customers are unable to access shared solar (aka community solar), which reduces up-front costs and particularly helps low- and moderate- income households access the benefits of solar.
Farmers and ranchers with multiple utility meters on their property are unable to spread their bill credits out to all of their meters. These simple net metering policies are benefitting numerous states and their residents around the country. It is time for Montana to enjoy these benefits too.
Rooftop solar and net metering ensure long-term savings for energy customers. They stimulate local economies, allowing small installation businesses to offer meaningful careers and help circulate dollars back into local communities. They lower our dependence on other energy sources, increasing our energy resilience in the face of price spikes, shortages, and blackouts. Stimulating renewable energy growth can and should be one of the solutions our leaders consider, especially as they seek ways to mitigate the financial impacts of the health crises we are facing. These solutions can start with net metering.
Andrew Valainis is the executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association. MREA is a non-profit organization that works to educate and advocate for renewable energy across Montana.