The battle over solar power in Montana has moved back to the home court after the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission rejected an appeal by Vote Solar, a solar power advocacy group.
Vote Solar had alleged the Montana Public Service Commission violated state law when it allowed utility Northwestern Energy to suspend its payments to solar facilities under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA). FERC said acting on the request is outside its authority and the Vote Solar does not have standing in the case.
Meanwhile, the Billings Gazette reports Northwestern has asked the PSC to cut the tariff paid to qualifying facilities under PURPA nearly in half, to $34/MWh.
Last June, the Montana PSC temporarily suspended avoided cost rates under PURPA at the request of NorthWestern Energy pending a rate review. The state’s avoided costs, last set in 2012, call for payments of $66/MWh, but the utility argued they should be lower.
Solar developer FLS Energy appealed FERC, and in December, the agency ruled that the PSC was not acting in accordance with PURPA when it suspended avoided cost rates.
However, FERC also refused to pursue the issue on behalf of North Carolina-based FLS, which filed the complaint against the PSC.
FERC’s refusal moved the case back to into state jurisdiction and put the matter before the PSC again. Now, local media reports indicate Northwestern has filed a proposal to cut the avoided cost rate nearly in half, to $34/MWh.
NorthWestern says it has nine solar farms under contract and has come to terms, but not signed contracts for, another 14 projects by FLS. The utility says another 21 projects have filed interconnection requests.