Residential home rooftop solar

I am a NorthWestern Energy employee and also a net metering customer of the company. I bought a home that has rooftop solar installed. I am very interested in the proposal for a new customer class made by my employer to the Montana Public Service Commission in the current rate review application.

Being a net metering customer is a hands-on learning experience for our family. I know that my rooftop solar system typically generates more electricity during the day than my family needs, especially on a beautiful sunny day like we had in Butte on Tuesday, June 4. Typically, the middle of the day isn’t the highest energy demand for customers. People are at work and kids are in school. That evening, when people were at home like I was making dinner, watching television, taking care of the laundry and turning on lights as the sun set, energy demand was higher. My rooftop solar system wasn’t producing the energy we needed that evening, so we were able to use the credits we generated during the day.

My system generates more energy than I can use and that energy is put onto the grid. However, with some exceptions such as very hot summer days, when my system is putting energy onto the grid, other utility customers don’t need it. There is a cost of using the grid this way, and the current net metering rate doesn’t reflect that whole cost. To date, that hasn’t been a big issue because only 2,100 customers net meter. But, as that number grows, the inequity between customers will become a bigger issue.

Figuring out a way to address this imbalance is a discussion happening across the nation. NorthWestern Energy’s proposal is an attempt to address the issue in Montana.

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Lori St. Aubin is the director of Revenue Cycle at NorthWestern Energy, and writes from Butte.

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