Montana District Court Reverses Public Service Commission on PURPA

On June 18, 2019, a Montana State District Court reversed the Montana Public Service Commission (Commission or MPSC), finding that MTSUN, a qualifying facility under the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act (PURPA), was entitled to a 25-year contract to sell its energy and capacity to NorthWestern Energy. The case was heard before the same Judge that decided the QF-1 docket on April 2, 2019 and to a large degree the decision is the same. 

Like in the QF-1 decision, the Judge here also reversed the Commission’s decision to reduce contract lengths from 25 to 15 years, and its decisions to lower contract prices by eliminating future regulatory costs of carbon dioxide emissions, failing to account for the cost of new generating resources that NorthWestern planned to acquire in 2019, and overlooking evidence that solar energy contributes to NorthWestern’s peak capacity needs in both summer and winter. For a more detailed discussion of those findings, please see our discussion of that QF-1 decision on April 2, 2019.

This case differs, however, in that it involves the application of the Commission’s findings to an individual qualifying facility, rather than being generally applicable as the QF-1 docket is. Citing numerous op-eds written by Commissioners expressing negative opinions about solar developers and the lack of an evidentiary record, the court here found that MTSUN’s due process rights were also violated. The court decided that MTSUN had presented unrefuted evidence that NorthWestern and MTSUN were virtually in agreement on the avoided cost of energy, therefore concluding that MTSUN had established a legally enforceable obligation to sell its power to NorthWestern.

Update: This case was appealed to the Montana Supreme Court and is currently pending further review.




These materials are intended to as informational and are not to be considered legal advice or legal opinion, nor do they create a lawyer-client relationship. Information included about previous case results does not assure a similar future result.