April 4, 2019

For more information please contact:

  • Jenny Harbine, Earthjustice, 406-586-9699, jharbine@earthjustice.org
  • Brian Fadie, Montana Environmental Information Center, 406-443-2520, bfadie@meic.org
  • Vote Solar, Rosalind Jackson, 415-817-5061, rosalind@votesolar.org

Download the judge’s ruling (PDF).

Yesterday, a Lake County, MT state court judge blocked an attempt by NorthWestern Energy to shut out competition for electricity generation in Montana by overturning a decision that made small-scale solar energy projects next-to impossible to develop. The court’s ruling re-opens the door to independent solar projects doing business in Montana again, allowing these private companies to create new jobs, tax revenue, and clean energy across the state.

In 2017, NorthWestern Energy attempted to stop independent solar projects by requesting the Montana Public Service Commission drastically cut their compensation rate and contract lengths. After the Commission agreed—setting rates for solar energy at less than half what NorthWestern charges its customers for its existing resources—no new independent solar projects have been built in Montana. The court’s decision yesterday to overturn the Commission’s order restores fairer contract terms for solar developers, and in turn, affords NorthWestern an opportunity to reduce its reliance on costlier and dirtier sources of energy. In the ruling, the court noted that the reduced compensation rates were set “to make such renewable energy development economically unfeasible, and thereby eliminate competition.”

“The court’s decision benefits all Montanans by giving clean energy resources a fair opportunity to compete with the dirty fossil fuels favored by NorthWestern,” said Earthjustice attorney Jenny Harbine, who represented clean-energy advocates in the case.  “This decision is an important step in beating back NorthWestern’s ongoing attempts to kill competition from clean and affordable renewables.” 

“Solar projects can create new jobs, tax revenue, and affordable clean energy across Montana if given a fair chance,” said Brian Fadie, clean energy program director for the Montana Environmental Information Center. “Counties like Stillwater, Musselshell, and Lewis & Clark have already seen these benefits with projects built prior to NorthWestern’s attacks on solar energy. With this ruling even more counties can benefit.”

“Montanans deserve low-cost clean energy, and today that means solar power. But now that homegrown solar is competitive, some monopoly utilities are attempting to change the rules of the game to limit solar development. We are pleased to see the Court uphold Federal law and the best interest of Montana’s families and businesses by bringing solar opportunity back to Big Sky Country,” said Ed Smeloff, Senior Director with Vote Solar.

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