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District judge sides with solar energy advocates in lawsuit against Montana PSC

Posted at 3:03 PM, Apr 08, 2019
and last updated 2019-04-08 13:42:17-04

HELENA – A state district judge has sided with solar energy advocates in a lawsuit accusing the Montana Public Service Commission (PSC) of illegally undercutting the development of small commercial solar projects.

James Manley, a judge from Lake County, ruled last week that the PSC made “arbitrary and unreasonable” decisions that meant new solar power development would not be economically viable.

The lawsuit was filed by solar developer Cypress Creek Renewables, Vote Solar and the Montana Environmental Information Center.

They challenged the PSC’s 2017 decisions to cut the rate at which independent solar projects can sell their power to NorthWestern Energy and to reduce the contract length for those projects from 25 years to 15 years.

Federal and state laws say utilities must pay independent providers a rate that equals the full “avoided costs” they save by not having to generate the power themselves or buy it somewhere else.

Manley said in his ruling that the PSC didn’t take into account several factors that would have increased the value of solar projects’ energy.

Manley also reversed the PSC’s “symmetry finding,” which limited NorthWestern to the same 15-year contract length as independent providers.

The judge gave the commission 20 days to revise its 2017 decisions.

-Jonathon Ambarian reporting for MTN News