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Montana House Committee Considers Renewable Energy Law Changes, Repeal

Close up of solar panels taken on Oct. 16, 2019
Jonathan Cutrer
Flickr (CC BY-NC 2.0)
Close up of solar panels taken on Oct. 16, 2019

Montana lawmakers are proposing to transform the state’s renewable energy law either by extending what kind of resource qualifies as renewable or by eliminating the law entirely.

House Bill 475 from Republican Rep. Derek Skees of Kalispell would expand the definition of renewable energy to include existing hydropower.

The renewable energy standard requires public electric utilities to source 15% of their energy from qualifying renewable producers like wind and solar farms, as well as some energy from community owned renewable resources.

The law is designed to encourage the development of diverse renewable energy resources across Montana, where hydropower is already widespread. Opponents say including hydro defeats the purpose of the standard.

Skees introduced the bill Monday.

“The bottom line is this: If something doesn’t produce carbon in its generation. Guess what? It’s green.”

Before the vote Wednesday, Skees added an amendment that future nuclear power built green also qualifies as renewable energy.

Democratic Rep. Denise Hayman of Bozeman dissented.

"You think you’re gonna slip in nuclear, when there’s no information about nuclear, you’re gonna do it in the twelfth hour — it's not okay.”

HB 475 as amended passed through the House Energy, Telecommunications, and Federal Relations 8 to 4 with votes split along party lines.

The Montana Public Service Commission and NorthWestern Energy have voiced support for categorizing hydropower as a renewable energy resource, while environmental groups like Montana Conservation Voters and the Montana Environmental Information Center say it weakens the law. Former Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock vetoed the same bill in 2019.

Republican Rep. Jerry Schillinger of Circle is sponsoring a bill that also changes state renewable energy law, but by removing the code entirely. House Bill 576 would repeal the law that public utilities include a minimum percentage of renewable energy in their portfolios.

The House will hold a public hearing for the bill Friday afternoon.

Kayla writes about energy policy, the oil and gas industry and new electricity developments.