MDU Solar Fee Will Limit Customer' Energy Choices
Montana-Dakota Utilities is proposing to increase rates by 21% for their electric customers in Montana. In addition to the double-digit rate increase, MDU is proposing an arbitrary fee on customers who have invested in their own renewable energy systems. MDU’s proposal to place an additional charge on solar, wind and other renewable energy customers is unprecedented for any utility in Montana.
Under the proposed fee, MDU customers who offset their electricity use with their own renewable energy system would be charged an additional fee for every kilowatt they use during their highest use period each month. MDU has provided only a cursory explanation of this new charge in their Public Service Commission filings, so residential customers have no way to estimate the total impact of this fee on their monthly energy bills.
Rooftop solar is just getting off of the ground in Montana and proposed utility fees like MDU’s demand charge are an attempt to halt this growth. “MDU’s attempt to penalize solar customers has come at the worst possible time,” said Ben Reed, an Eastern Montana based renewable energy system installer. “While the utility is proposing a large rate increase, they are also attempting to block customers from generating their own power and insulating their families from rising electric bills.”
Some MDU customers disagree with the company’s proposed solar fee. “We are planning to install a solar array at our place this year to reduce the large electric loads we have for our farming operation,” said Floyd Dahlman of Forsyth. “This proposed fee will make it harder for that investment to pencil out. I think it’s unfair for the utility company to limit our energy choices to protect their profits.”
Expanding options for home and business owners to invest in solar and other renewable electricity options was a prevalent topic during Montana’s 2015 legislative session. A legislative energy interim committee is currently devoting the next year studying specific cost and benefits of onsite, small-scale renewable energy generation. Diana Maneta, Executive Director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, points out, “MDU’s proposed demand charge attempts to circumvent the legislative process by imposing a fee without thorough analysis.”
MDU filed its proposed rate increase with the Montana Public Service Commission on June 24, 2015. PSC hearings on the rate increase will begin later this summer. Comments on the proposed net metering fee can be submitted to the PSC before July 24 by email: [email protected], or by mail: Montana Public Service Commission, PO Box 202601, Helena, MT 59620. Include reference in comments to docket number D2015.6.51 and the proposed demand charge for net metered customers.