Montana officials mull expanding rooftop solar size cap

Dive Brief:

  • A Montana legislative panel is considering changes to the state’s net metering rules, which currently cap net metered systems at 50 kW.
  • reports the panel is considering sample bills, one of which would raise the limit to 250 kW. Many businesses in the state indicate they would have installed larger systems but for the relatively-low limit.
  • NorthWestern Energy is opposed to the bill, indicating concerns that solar customers may not be paying their fair share of costs to operate the grid.

Dive Insight:

The debate playing out in Montana looks a lot like those already seen in Hawaii and Nevada, where utilities are concerned about system limitations and whether those with solar systems are paying their fair share of the cost to operate the grid.

Unless changes are made to the net metering retail rate, a spokeswoman for NorthWestern Energy said the utility will not support raising the current cap on systems. “We have to recognize that not every customer is going to be in a position to put private solar on their home (or business),” spokeswoman Claudia Rapkoch told MTN News. “So you have to make something that is fair and equitable to all.”

According to the news outlet, Montana’s Energy and Transportation Interim Committee last month took steps to draft several bills on the issue, with an eye towards the 2017 Legislative session.

Raising the cap has support from Republican Rep. Daniel Zolnikov, who drafted some portions of the bills. “Right now it’s basically a barrier to entry for anyone to try to compete against the monopoly of the utilities in the state,” he told MTN.

According to a legislative staff summary of net metering’s impacts, Montana currently offers a property tax exemption for buildings using renewable energy, “with certain amounts of residential and nonresidential structures exempted from property tax increases resulting from the installation of a renewable energy system.”

For a single family home, the exemption is for 10 years based on a $20,000 solar installation.

Read more here.