Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom Rally

Demonstrators fill the grand staircase holding signs Thursday, during the Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom rally in the State Capitol rotunda.

Thom Bridge, thom.bridge@helenair.com

A legislative committee tabled a solar energy bill on Friday that a day earlier drew more than a 150 renewable energy advocates to the Capitol to rally for its passage.

The House Energy, Technology and Federal Relations Committee tied 8-8 on House Bill 504 before voting to the table the measure.

The bill made several changes to energy law around “net metering,” or when solar or other renewable energy generators are connected to the power grid with excess power credited to offset energy costs. In Montana, NorthWestern Energy is typically required to buy the net metered power as a credit on that generator’s energy bill.

During a hearing on Wednesday, HB405 drew support from renewable energy advocates who touted it as a job creator and keeping Montana laws current with industry trends.

Opposition came during the hearing from utilities who argued that it overly burdened NorthWestern and ratepayers while lacking enough regulation of the scope of net metered projects.

Organized labor also opposed due to concerns about the industry’s compliance with labor laws and alleged nonuse of skilled workers.

During executive action Friday, supporters of the bill reiterated the job opportunities and desire to see solar and other renewables expand in Montana.

Opposition addressed the timing of HB504 with a separate bill to study net metering still in play while others echoed concerns of the opponents.

Rep. Derek Skees, R-Kalispell, criticized the bill because it “requires another company to burden their assets to work,” referencing the transmission and maintenance provided by the utility. Skees said that he supports solar but it is not ready to be mainstream in Montana.

The committee tied on a vote to pass HB504 with Republican Adam Hertz voting to support. With a tie vote, the committee then voted to table bill.

This story has been edited to remove reference to Denise Hayman, who was incorrectly identified as a Republican. She is a Democrat. 

Reporter Tom Kuglin can be reached at 447-4076 @IR_TomKuglin

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Natural Resources Reporter

Natural Resources Reporter / Assistant Editor for The Independent Record.

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