Montana ruling casts shadow over future of solar farm
Jul. 25, 2017
BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) — Plans to build Montana's largest solar farm may be in jeopardy after state regulators set contract terms that the project's developer called unworkable.
The 80-megawatt solar farm would generate enough electricity to power about 14,400 homes, and cost about $100 million to build. Last year, developers of MTSun signed a lease to build it on state trust land outside Billings.
NorthWestern Energy is required to purchase electricity from the project under a federal law to promote the development of alternative energy resources.
The Montana Public Service Commission finalized contract terms Friday: 10 years at a rate of $20 per megawatt hour.
That rate is less than half of the $43.50 per megawatt hour that MTSun was seeking, and the contract length is much shorter than previous ones that could run up to 25 years.
Developer Mark Klein told the Billings Gazette (http://bit.ly/2v4nXyf) that the project can't move forward under those terms.
"We disagree with the order and we will do what we have to," he said. "We will use all of our resources available to help the commissioners understand that the order as is, doesn't work for us. We are committed to building the project."
The PSC's actions follow a vote last month to cap all energy contracts at 10 years. The PSC's final decision Friday cites a state law that says a 10-year contract is the minimum long-term agreement.
State lawmakers on the Energy and Telecommunications Interim Committee rebuked the PSC in a letter that said the new contracts are too short to support renewable energy development and "appear unlawful."
Public Service Commissioners Brad Johnson and Travis Kavulla are scheduled to appear before the committee next week.
Information from: The Billings Gazette, http://www.billingsgazette.com