- NorthWestern Energy will move forward with a study of net-metering customers after receiving additional direction from state regulators this week, including a laundry list of costs and benefits which must be examined.
- The Montana Public Service Commission voted unanimously to establish the study criteria, which must be completed by April of 2018.
- The study will be done at the direction of lawmakers, who passed HB 219 earlier this year calling for the comprehensive analysis.
There was debate earlier this year over the need for a net metering study in Montana, but regulators have embraced the plan, and directed the utility to move forward with the study.
PSC Chairman Brad Johnson in a statement said that the criteria established by the commission will ensure meaningful results. “To find the answers you’re looking for, you need to make sure that you are asking the right questions,” he said.
The study will focus on benefits of net metering, such as avoided energy and capacity the utility otherwise would have to buy. And it will consider costs, such as integrating solar or wind energy onto the utility network, but will not incorporate "broader social benefits" such as job growth linked with solar installations.
“The law requires the Commission to focus solely on those factors that have a direct impact on the utility system and the provision of service to customers,” said PSC vice-chairman Travis Kavulla.
Representative Zach Brown (D) sponsored the law, which authorizes the commission to establish minimum information requirements which must be included in the utility’s study.
In comments filed with the PSC, NorthWestern said integration costs should be included in the study.
"There are increased ancillary services costs to integrate these types of resources into the grid," the utility said. "Services like regulation, load following, contingency reserves, and frequency responsive reserve requirements are all needed to integrate net-metered generation resources."
The utility said it does not have current information on these costs, "but would work with the consultant to develop the necessary information to study these costs."
While there are few net metering customers in Montana, it has been a contentious topic in the state, echoing similar battles in Western states such as Nevada and Arizona. Two years ago, NorthWestern blocked bills aimed at strengthening the policy.