- Solar advocates in Montana have petitioned the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to force the state to reverse a recent decision suspending higher payments to small renewable facilities, PV Magazine reports.
- In June, the Montana’s Public Service Commission suspended guaranteed rates to small solar projects under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). The law provides for small solar facilities to be compensated at the "avoided cost" of conventional plants.
- Vote Solar and the Montana Environmental Information Center filed the challenge on Monday, requesting federal regulators ensure PURPA payments to solar projects. Earthjustice represents them.
Montana regulators in June temporarily halted PURPA payments at the request of Northwestern Energy, over concerns solar developers were flooding into the state to take advantage of a $66/MWh rate. For now, they will need to negotiate rates with the utility on a case-by-case basis, until a new rate is set.
But solar advocates are pushing back, and have asked FERC to reverse the decision.
Earthjustice Attorney Jenny Harbine framed the issue as a market concern. “By stalling competitive solar production in Montana, the Montana Commission is killing clean energy jobs and preventing solar energy from entering the competitive market," he said in a statement.
According to the group's filing, the state commission based its decision on an "illusory emergency," and "has undercut significant solar development in Montana and discouraged future solar projects."
Earlier this year NorthWestern said hook-up applications from solar companies unexpectedly surged, receiving almost 100 requests since January 2015.
In requesting the halt on PURPA payments, NorthWestern attorney John Alke said the utility had nine solar farms under contract, mostly with Cypress Creek Renewables of California. He said NorthWestern had also agreed to terms with North Carolina-based FLS Energy for 14 Montana projects to be built in the next 18 months, though it had not finalized the deals. Alke also said NorthWestern would also accept 21 projects from Pacific Northwest Solar of Oregon.
Solar advocates say the utility is overstating the issue. "Northwestern Energy is saying the sky is falling in Montana because several solar developers want to build small scale solar plants and create jobs across the state," said Brian Fadie, clean energy program director at Montana Environmental Information Center.