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Bill to encourage NorthWestern Energy to buy more Colstrip power gets new life

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Western Energy is asking state regulators to approve an electric rate increase of thirty five million dollars for its three hundred sixty thousand customers in Montana yesterday we looked at how the cost of the Colstrip power plant has become a contentious part of the rate case today in the second of a two-part series MTN’s Mike Dennison looks at another unusual wrinkle in the case how northwestern wants to change rates for customers with rooftop solar power systems right now if you install a solar power system on your home or business you can get credit from Northwestern Energy for excess electricity that you generate and send back into the grid it’s called a net metered system and about two thousand of them exist on northwestern systems statewide but in the rate case before the Public Service Commission the company is proposing to change the electricity rate structure for future net metered customers solar power advocates who have intervened in the case say the new rate is not needed and would make rooftop solar systems more expensive to operate the use of a demand charge or the suggested use of a demand charge is really inappropriate for residential customers it’s hard to understand it’s gonna be really expensive for them and it’s gonna make it nearly impossible to save money by going solar this new demand charge is based on a customer’s usage of power during their highest point of consumption during a month Villena says it could add fifty to seventy dollars a month or more to electric bills for those with net metering systems northwestern also was proposing to pay these customers less for the power they produce but also charged in the same lower amount for any power they have to buy from northwestern the company says the change more fairly reflects the net meter customers cost of using the system we want all of our customers to pay their fair share of using distribution and transmission and paying for the electricity that they’re using we don’t want one class of customers to be paying more than their fair share but solar power advocates say any cost imposed by net meter systems are negligible and there’s little doubt the new raise would harm the solar system installing industry in Montana what I’ve been hearing from our installer members who have spoken to is that they’re kind of looking down the barrel of a loaded gun they’re very nervous about the proposal this one of many that PSC must decide as it goes through this rate case the first in 10 years for Northwestern Energy and just about all of them have potentially huge impacts for customers and businesses all across the state reporting from Helena Mike Dennison MTN news the PSC will hold an extensive public hearing on the case in May you

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