Rooftop solar in Montana is under attack again and this time current rooftop solar owners are targeted too. In April, an anti-renewables group filed a petition with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to try to bring a swift and sudden end to net metering programs across the country, including in Montana. The proposal seeks to transfer control over net metering programs from state public utility commissions into the hands of the federal agency. Under this new oversight, the value of credits net metering customers receive, both current and future customers, would be cut in half — or more. This proposal would end net metering as we know it.
Net metering is a state policy that allows rooftop solar owners to receive credits on their utility bills for excess energy they generate and send back to the grid. Over the past 20 years, net metering has fueled growth in Montana’s renewable energy industry. It has created jobs across the state and allowed Montanans to save money on their energy bills, which are some of the highest in our region. In short, it’s been successful. Despite this, it has come under attack before. Montanans will recall that net metering was a core issue in NorthWestern Energy’s electric rate case last year. Fortunately, the Montana Public Service Commission rejected the proposed changes and net metering remains intact, for the time being.
Now, the New England Ratepayers Association, a group with a history of attacking renewable energy, has filed a petition with FERC seeking to end net metering for Montanans and all other solar owners across America. FERC is a federal agency that regulates interstate energy commerce, such as the sale of electricity. With this petition, NERA is asking FERC to take control over local net metering rates and customers from the states. Individual states would no longer decide how rooftop solar customers are credited. Instead, FERC would decide. The petition further requests that rooftop solar owners be credited at a rate much lower than they currently are.
One of the most devious parts of this filing is that it would affect all current net metering customers — not just future customers. This means the more than 3,000 Montanans and approximately 2.3 million Americans who are currently participating in net metering programs across the country would be affected. The financial arrangement that they signed up for in good faith with their utility would be dramatically altered, punishing current rooftop solar owners and greatly discouraging new ones.
FERC has repeatedly declared that state-level net metering issues are not within its jurisdiction. So, why is NERA trying again and why now? With the on-going pandemic, many state agencies and advocacy groups are either distracted, short on resources, or both. This makes it hard to push back against a proposal like this one. Fortunately, the petition did not go unnoticed. State utility commissions across the country have already begun to weigh in. In fact, the President of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners has publicly and strongly opposed the petition.
We should be supporting net metering, not attacking it. Net metering is helping Montanans save money with clean, resilient, independently produced energy. It is important for Montanans to make their voice heard on this issue, but contacting FERC is more challenging than simply sending an email. Please go to montanarenewables.org/FERC to find out how to raise your voice to protect net metering and rooftop solar from this disastrous proposal. The sooner comments are sent in the better.
Andrew Valainis is the executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association.
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