Bridger Bowl is highly commended for incorporating solar technology into its energy systems. The ski hill has installed an array of 160 solar panels projected to have a major impact on its power consumption. The panels will power one chairlift, a pair of conveyor lifts and offset some 50-65% of snowmaking operations.

The venture also serves to illustrate a perverse aspect of state solar energy policy that lawmakers need to rectify.

The cost of installing solar equipment has fallen dramatically in recent years. Technology advances, market growth and incentivizing government policy have cut costs nearly in half in the last decade. That is motivating the installation of a lot more residential and commercial solar equipment.

But while the trend nationally is toward solar and away from fossil fuel, Montana has laws on the books that limit the benefits from solar energy. Net-metering allows private solar producers to put excess power produced back onto the grid for credit on their energy bills. But that credit is limited to 50 kilowatts per utility user’s address by law. That may be plenty for a single-family home. But for an operation the size of Bridger Bowl, it’s a highly limiting factor. Even though the ski hill has 15 separate meters, it is capped at getting credit for producing 50 kilowatts for its single address.

And the same goes for any other large commercial operation with the potential to produce a lot of solar power. They are discouraged from getting into solar power because of the strict limits on the credit they can get for that power.

Lobbying by NorthWestern Energy has stymied efforts to amend the law. And the energy company is now asking the Public Service Commission to allow adding a fee for net-metered energy on new installations – a fee that solar advocates say would have the effect of shutting down the home solar industry in the state.

We are clearly going in the wrong direction on this. While the world is trending toward wind and solar energy to reduce carbon emissions, Montana seems to be stuck in the past and digging in deeper.

The potential for renewable energy – and all the jobs that would go with it – is immense in this state. Our lawmakers and regulators would be wise to remember that fact. They’d also be wise to do what’s right for Montana’s future and remove barriers that block its production.

Editorial Board

  • Mark Dobie, publisher
  • Nick Ehli, managing editor
  • Bill Wilke, opinion page editor
  • Richard Broome, community member
  • Renee Gavin, community member
  • Will Swearingen, community member
  • Angie Wasia, community member

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