Beyond the Texas power outages and blackouts lies a largely unseen dynamic between fossil fuel companies and so-called “clean energy” interests.
One dispute in Montana sheds light on the competitive relationship and how it can cost customers money.
In 2017, Montana’s utility regulator, the Public Service Commission (PSC), made a controversial decision that benefited utility monopoly NorthWestern Energy.
“They made a rule or decision that disadvantaged, really grossly disadvantaged, these solar energy developers,” says Anne Hedges, who’s with the nonprofit Montana Environmental Information Center.
Hedges says the PSC drastically reduced the amount of money NorthWestern Energy would have to pay solar companies for their power. (Purchases of renewable energy are required under a 1970s federal law). Her group sued the PSC and eventually won in court. The Montana Supreme Court threw out the PSC’s directive on what solar companies would have to be paid, and upped that amount to 144% more than recommended.
Roger Koopman was on the Montana PSC that voted to slash the rates for solar energy. He says the PSC was just doing what’s right for customers and now— customers will have to pay more for energy because of the court’s decision.
“[Green energy advocates] believe that there should be a premium price for renewables, that the renewables should get something extra,” says Koopman. “But I also think there's a general attitude that ‘fine, renewable energy is great, go for it, but don't make me pay more for it. It should reflect the market cost of energy, no more, no less’.”
Hedges says similar energy conflicts are coming up in numerous states with no single answer on how the disputes will come out.
Meantime, according to energy experts, due to various issues, there is trouble not the horizon elsewhere: Increasingly, there may not be enough electricity available during peak demand times in states including Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Utah, Wyoming and Montana.