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As Montanans Call for More Solar Power, Special Interest Attacks Continue to Mount

For Immediate Release

Missoula, MT -- While nearly 9 in 10 Montanans support the development of more renewable energy sources like solar energy, electric utilities and fossil fuel-backed special interests are trying to hold off the inevitable renewable-energy future by promoting policies that would make rooftop solar harder to obtain. A new report released today by Environment Montana Research & Policy Center documents 22 entities, including NorthWestern Energy, who sought to roll back key policies driving solar power over the past year.

“It’s completely clear that Montanans want more solar power, for the good of our environment, our health and our local economy,” said Skye Borden with Environment Montana. “We cannot allow for a narrow set of interests to block the ability of everyday citizens to tap into clean and renewable solar power on the roofs of our homes and businesses.”

Fueled by strong public policies, solar energy is growing by leaps and bounds, with enough solar capacity installed in the U.S. to power 1 in 14 American homes. The American public has demanded solar power because it is clean and increasingly affordable, with costs down two-thirds over the past decade. 

Yet, today’s “Blocking the Sun” report shows that electric utilities and special interests are actively undermining access to solar energy across the country.

According to a Frontier Group analysis of the most recent N.C. Clean Energy Technology Center ‘50 States of Solar’ report, at least 90 ongoing policy actions in U.S. states could affect the growth of rooftop solar generation as of mid-2017. They include limits on net metering or new utility fees that make solar power less affordable.

"We're seeing a continued, concerted effort to knock down some of the best solar policies out there by some of the most powerful state utilities and fossil fuel actors" said Hye-Jin Kim, policy associate at Frontier Group and report co-author. "We've done this study three years in a row, and despite overwhelming public approval of solar power, the industry attacks on pro-solar policies continue."

Often operating in dense regulatory proceedings, electric utilities like NorthWestern Energy have attempted to roll back the benefits rooftop solar can provide on your electricity bill.

Efforts by electric utilities to stall solar have been coupled with, and in some cases, orchestrated by, fossil fuel front groups such as the Consumer Energy Alliance and utility trade groups such as the Edison Electric Institute. 

In many cases, it’s working. In the last legislative session, a NorthWestern-backed bill that would open the door for diminishing net metering in the state passed through both chambers before being vetoed by Bullock. NorthWestern is currently conducting a study on the costs and benefits of net metering, which will be completed by April 2018.

The Trump administration has also appointed allies of the electric utilities and fossil fuel companies to key positions within the Department of Energy and other federal agencies. Those appointees are making a concerted effort to undermine solar power at the national level. Studies put forth by Energy Secretary Rick Perry question the value of rooftop solar and attempt to justify support for coal and nuclear plants over renewable energy.

The “Blocking the Sun” report recommends state and national decision-makers resist utility and fossil fuel industry attempts to reduce the economic viability of distributed solar energy, and reject policies to limit the use of this clean, renewable and increasingly economical source of power.

“To meet our major environmental challenges and reach 100 percent renewable energy, we must harness the power of the sun on exponentially more rooftops here in Montana,” said Borden. “The people want this to happen -- it’s up to our public officials to stand up to powerful interests and make going solar easier, not harder.”

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Environment Montana Research & Policy Center is dedicated to protecting Montana’s air, water and open spaces. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public and decision makers, and help Americans make their voices heard in local, state and national debates over the quality of our environment and our lives.

www.EnvironmentMontanaCenter.org