In 2015 I found a house in Helena that met all of my needs - located in a great neighborhood at a price I could afford. The last item on my list was to check that the house was well-suited for a rooftop solar system. That part was easy. A local business, Solar Montana, simply had to check the house on Goggle Earth and assured me the roof was in the right configuration and angle for great solar gain.
Using a portion of my limited retirement funds, I invested in this energy source both for its positive environmental effects and as a way to ensure I could afford to live independently as I aged. It made sense, I thought, that as my future household and health expenses increased, this investment would assure that my utility bill remained stable, a good way to invest wisely in my financial future.
In early May I learned that NorthWestern Energy has made a request to the Public Service Commission for a charge that would effectively cost me $50 to $70 per month if I did not generate enough electricity for my own household and needed even 1 kilowatt-hour of electricity from their generators. Citing a study commissioned and paid for by NWE, the utility company claims that it pays up to three times as much for electricity generated from rooftop solar system. I find this hard to believe. When I generate more power than I use NWE is given these extra kilowatt-hours as a gift when they zero out my meter every April.
What kind of math is used to figure the claim of the increased cost? Less than 0.5% of NWE’s customers have solar-connected systems. I fail to see how we are breaking the bank on shareholders returns. In addition, studies show repeatedly that distributed energy systems, such as rooftop solar, actually reduce the need to build additional and costly new power plants while reducing the polluting emissions to the atmosphere.
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NWE’s website states their mission: “Working together to provide safe, reliable and innovative energy solutions that create value for customers, communities, employees, and investors.”
Distributed energy is safe, reliable and an innovation that creates value for all residents in Montana. I urge the PSC to vote NO on this absurd and damaging charge that would effectively cripple the state’s solar business and may result in financial hardships for people who, like me, live on a fixed income or invested in rooftop solar systems with the agreement of a reasonable payback. Solar businesses generate over $17 billion for America’s economy along with 242,000 jobs. We in Montana want a part of this business and to be engaged in climate change solutions. If the rate increase goes through we might as well just change the name of the Public Service Commission to “The Commission” because there will be no public service in their action.