- Montana State Senators Mike Phillips (D) and Jennifer Fielder (R), along with State Reps. Randy Pinocci (R) and Art Wittich (R) are pushing a bipartisan suite of bills to increase Montanans' access to rooftop solar through improved net metering.
- The bills would (1) increase electric utilities’ cap on net metered systems from 50 kilowatts to 1 megawatt, (2) allow net metering from one installation for all of a customer’s meters, (3) allow shared solar power to be net metered, and (4) increase co-ops' cap on net metered systems.
- The bills face staunch opposition from the state's electric utilities and rural electric co-ops who argue net metering shifts the burden of maintenance costs for the transmission and distribution system to non-solar owning customers.
A utility representative compared solar to “melanoma” in an interview with the Montana standard and said net metering has been “an enormous problem in other states” but solar advocates say it provides more benefits than costs and has only reached a high enough penetration in one state — Hawaii — to cause real issues.
Net metering advocates say solar is a bipartisan issue because of Montanans' independent and self-reliant inclinations. Opponents say solar is not viable without subsidies.
Tea Party Co-founder and Green Tea Coalition head Debbie Dooley has told utility dive “monopoly utilities” oppose solar because they are guarding their own profits. She also said Republicans who oppose allowing utility customers to have the choice of solar are being untrue to core Republican values.
Dooley accused the American Legislative Exchange Council and “Koch brothers-funded groups” of being behind the effort to stop solar in favor of the Koch brothers’ financial interests in fossil fuels.
A larger cap and the other revisions to net metering would drive growth in Montana’s solar industry which currently employs about 200 people in some 60 small businesses.