By Associated Press - Wednesday, September 23, 2020

BILLINGS, Mont. (AP) - The Montana Supreme Court has ruled that state energy regulators set unfair terms that rendered the MTSUN solar farm uneconomical.

Tuesday’s decision paves the way for the solar farm project to move forward in 2021.

The court unanimously ruled that the Montana Public Service Commission chose arbitrary regulations that meant the solar farm could not be economically viable. It was the second time in a month that the high court ruled against the Public Service Commission and the state’s largest monopoly utility, NorthWestern Energy.

The court’s ruling affirms a lower court’s decision that the Public Service Commission knew it was harming solar-based projects when it shortened power purchase contracts between NorthWestern and solar developers from 25 years to 15 years, the Billings Gazette reported.

“In reviewing the record and considering each component of the PSC’s orders, it is clear that at nearly every step of setting the terms of MTSUN’s PPA, the PSC chose arbitrary and unlawful methodologies that resulted in deflating the economic feasibility of MTSUN’s project,” wrote state Chief Justice Mike McGrath in his decision.

The solar farm is due to become the second largest project of its kind at 0.75 square miles (1.9 square kilometers). The 80-megawatt development would generate enough electricity to power about 14,400 homes. The project would also lower electricity prices, officials said.

The PSC is comprised of a five-person board, currently all Republicans. Commission spokesperson Drew Zinecker did not respond to a call or email from the Gazette on Tuesday seeking comment.

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