Tom Luteyâ€™s May 10 article explains NorthWestern Energyâ€™s demand charge for new residential solar power customers. I served as the Public Service Commissionâ€™s chief economist from the mid-1980s until 2010. I also have an agreement with NWE to exchange energy and donate our annual excess solar energy to NWE.
NWEâ€™s plan before the PSC raises serious public policy issues.
During my PSC career I helped implement federal and state statutes. My experience was that NWE, and Montana Power Company previously, did their utmost to impede renewable energy development. A pattern evolved whereby the utility would seek to recover costs for its resources that greatly exceeded the rates it sought to pay its competitors. This is expected monopoly/monopsony behavior that, if left unchecked by the PSC, is discriminatory.
As an existing solar power producer, the NWE letter sent us indicates we can choose to not be impacted by NWEâ€™s demand charge proposal. That we may choose to avoid this charge is little consolation. The number of residential customers who bypass NWE by means of substitute fuels (wood, gas, efficient LED lights, etc.) surely dwarfs the 2,100 who use solar electric panels.