PSC, NorthWestern Energy push industry, jobs away
Guest Column Missoulian 07/05/2017 John Woodland
The Public Service Commission and NorthWestern Energy just teamed up to keep Montana in the bottom quarter for per capita income. The PSC rubber stamped NWE’s request to torpedo large-scale solar facilities by setting contract terms so bad that no projects can be built, pushing this growing industry, its jobs and investment dollars to other states. PSC Commissioner Bob Lake was caught on an open microphone admitting his goal was to shut down these projects.
Last year, energy experts testified to the PSC that NorthWestern’s proposed value for the solar energy from these facilities was based on production assumptions well below what other states find reasonable and that contract lengths shorter than 15 to 20 years would make financing them almost impossible. Even NorthWestern’s own recent request for proposals to build a new power plant required 20 year contracts because it’s a standard length for power plants. Instead, the PSC set contracts at 5 years.
Solar energy jobs are growing 12 times as fast as the U.S. economy. Renewables are the fastest growing energy sector in the country, but Montana will effectively be left out of this growth. Companies seeking to invest in such facilities will take their money and jobs elsewhere, to states like Wyoming, which have embraced renewables. NorthWestern Energy will continue to charge some of the highest utility rates in the Northwest and send their out-of-state stockholders exceptional profits at Montana’s expense. Why? It seems NWE prefers to build the highest priced facilities it can — like gas plants — in order to charge us all more in our bills and give them more profit.
The PSC is harder to understand. Some members, such as the one caught on the open mic, are simply ideologically opposed to renewables. This is both puzzling and concerning given the tremendous job growth solar has created in other parts of the country and the way the decision seemed designed specifically to put an end to solar competing with NorthWestern Energy’s monopoly status.