NorthWestern Energy Once Again Kills Future Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom for Montana

by Brian Fadie

On February 24th, at the request of NorthWestern Energy, the Montana House Energy Committee killed the Solar Jobs and Energy Freedom Act. The bill failed to pass when it received an 8 to 8 tied vote with Representatives Alan Redfield, Derek Skees, Austin Knudsen, Casey Knudsen, Geraldine Custer, James O’Hara, Adam Rosendale, and Daniel Zolnikov voting no.

This bill – HB 504 – would have given Montana residents and businesses the flexibility and freedom needed to allow solar energy to grow in Montana. It would have reformed Montana’s solar energy policies to reflect the significant advances in technology and cost reductions seen across the solar industry over the last 10 years. It would have led to the growth of local solar jobs.

NorthWestern Energy lobbied hard to kill this bill, thereby restricting the ability of its customers to make the choice to go solar. This is the latest in an increasingly long list of actions by NorthWestern opposing clean energy development, including pushing numerous anti-wind and solar pieces of legislation (SB 7, SB 32, SB 78, SB 102, SB 154).

Because of NorthWestern’s obstruction, Montana will miss out on jobs and clean energy. In 2016, solar jobs accounted for one in every 50 new jobs created in the United States. Meanwhile, here in Montana we have barely begun to scratch the surface of our solar potential. According to the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, Montana could meet 30% of its energy needs with rooftop solar alone. However, less than one percent of our energy currently comes from solar. We have tremendous room to grow, but that growth will continue to be harder than it should be.

The legislature’s action is also out of step with the overwhelming majority of Montanans who want more clean energy. 90% of Montanans want to see more solar energy development while 92% specifically support net metering policies. Yet even bills that would have modestly advanced our clean energy laws, such as HB 34 and HB 52, could not get out of committee. This intransigence is not only disappointing, but also harmful to Montana’s future.

If we do nothing to act on climate change, Montana’s agricultural economy could lose almost 12,500 jobs and $372 million in earnings over the next 50 years. As if that’s not enough, Montana’s outdoor recreation economy could lose 11,000 jobs and $281 million due to climate change impacts. It would be game over for Montana as we know it.

The legislature and NorthWestern Energy are apparently unwilling or unable to take action on their constituents and customers desire for more solar energy. The question would now seem to be: how long will Montanans stand for it?