(CN) – In Montana, the sixth largest coal-producing state in the nation, alternative energy sources face stiff competition. But a Montana environmental law group has taken aim at cheap coal energy in a lawsuit over caps on clean-energy production.
The Cottownwood Environmental Law Center sued the Montana Public Service Commission this past week in Gallatin County District Court, claiming the state’s net-metering law violates Montanans’ rights to a clean environment because the law limits the amount of renewable energy that can be put back onto the power grid.
Net metering is the production of energy through wind, solar or hydropower that is meant to offset energy customers’ energy requirements. If electricity generated by a consumer exceeds what the consumer uses, the excess power is credited to the producer.
Passed in 1999, Montana’s net-metering law limits producers to 50 kilowatt hours of power, therefore preventing Montanans’ rights to a clean and healthy environment, the group says in its lawsuit. Because of the net-metering limit, more fossil fuels must be burned to create energy in Montana, they say.
Additionally, the law prevents investment in renewable energy in Montana. More development of fossil fuels leads to increased greenhouse gases, unhealthy forests, more wildfires, loss of wildlife habitat and increasing water temperatures in rivers and streams in Montana, the group says in the lawsuit.
Montana’s limit on consumer-generated renewable energy stifles the creation of community solar projects, which can provide power to several homes. These kinds of renewable energy co-ops make renewable energy more affordable for people who might not be able to afford their own solar-energy system, according to the group’s lawsuit.
The state produces some of the “cleanest” coal in the nation given its low sulfur content, making it attractive to coal companies.
Coal is Montana’s top energy source with about one-fourth of the United States’ coal reserves. It was the sixth-largest coal producing state in 2016, and also ranks 15th in the nation in carbon dioxide emissions, according to the Energy Information Association.
The environmental law group seeks a finding that the net-metering law is invalid because it violates Montanans’ constitutional rights. They are represented by in-house attorney John Meyer of Bozeman, and Keatan Williams of Missoula.