Northern Plains to push for expansion of clean energy in 2015 Legislature | TSLN.com

Northern Plains to push for expansion of clean energy in 2015 Legislature

Protecting landowner rights and expanding consumers' access to clean energy, such as solar and wind, lead the list of legislative proposals that the Northern Plains Resource Council hopes to advance during the 2015 Montana Legislature. Some of the legislation already has bipartisan support. Northern Plains is a conservation and family agriculture group based in Billings.

Oil and gas priorities

"These are common sense changes in the law," said Terry Punt, a Birney-area rancher and a member of Northern Plains Resource Council's Oil and Gas Task Force. "A baseline water testing bill would protect landowner interests by requiring a third-party to test surface water and springs to protect the landowner in case their water is polluted by oil or gas drilling. The industry would be required to pay for the water test when it applies for a permit to drill.

"A flaring-capture bill would require the drilling company to provide a plan for capturing methane produced when drilling for oil, instead of burning off the methane in flares. For health and economic reasons, this valuable resource should not be wasted into the atmosphere. The landowner does not receive royalties and the citizens do not receive taxes when this form of finite energy is wasted."

Baseline water testing: Would provide land and mineral owners within one mile of a proposed oil or gas well the right to have their groundwater tested by a third party before and after development. The testing costs would be paid by the drilling industry applicant.

Flaring: Would prevent waste and pollution by requiring applicants to file a gas capture plan prior to obtaining a permit, would reduce the allowable level of flaring for a single well from 100,000 cubic feet per day to 35,000 cubic feet per day, and would require the operator to pay a royalty to the mineral owner and taxes to the state on all captured gas.

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Increase bonding for oil and gas wells: Would protect taxpayers by increasing Montana's bonding requirements to no less than $60,000 for most wells, $20,000 for wells less than 2,000 feet deep drilled solely to obtain geological data, and not less than $250,000 for a multiple well bond. Operators would also be required to place $5,000 per inactive well in escrow or pay annual idle well fees ranging for $100 to $500 per well per year.

Peggy Ames Nerud's confirmation to the BOGC: Nerud is a McCone County landowner and Northern Plains member who has been serving on the Board of Oil and Gas Conservation since her appointment by Governor Bullock in July 2013. She will need Senate confirmation to continue serving on the BOGC.

Clean energy priorities

"We are proposing to fix the arbitrary implementations of the net-metering law that was passed 15 years ago. We know a lot more about it now," said Ben Reed, who owns Winpower West in Billings, a Billings company that installs wind and solar power for businesses and homes. He also is a member of Northern Plains' Clean Energy Task Force.

"We want all Montanans to have access to renewable energy, such as solar and wind. We should be given a choice in how we get our energy and not be impeded by regulatory constraints."

Net metering applies when a home or business using renewable energy, such as solar and wind produces more power than it can use, and sells it back to the utility company or gets credit for power when they need it. The proposals do not affect rural electric co-ops.

Neighborhood net metering: Would give consumers more energy choices by allowing multiple people to invest in a large, shared renewable energy system. It allows renters, as well as property owners whose properties are not ideally situated, to make business arrangements for accessing solar energy. The proposal could also benefit people who cannot afford the upfront cost of a full installation.

"Raise the cap": Would encourage more business investment in renewable energy systems by removing the arbitrary cap on system size.

Aggregate net metering: Would make renewable energy more accessible to farmers and ranchers by allowing them to offset multiple meters with one solar installation. Currently, the law states that a renewable energy system's output can only be credited to one electrical meter, causing Montanans with multiple meters to pay more.

Other priorities

Oil and gas liquid waste disposal: Would protect soil and water by prohibiting the use of earthen pits or ponds during oil and gas development in favor of a "closed-loop system." This would efficiently recycle circulated mud used during the drilling process, prevent fluids from coming into contact with native soils, and eliminate the need for an earthen reserve pit or pond.

Oil and gas setback requirements: Would protect rural landowners by prohibiting the drilling of an oil or gas well within 1,000 feet of surface water, water wells, or habitable buildings.

Well casing standards: Would protect groundwater by improving Montana's well casing standards, and requiring cement integrity tests, ensuring suitable and safe conductor casings in all wells, and requiring a formation pressure integrity test when intermediate casings are needed.

Rollover net metering credits: Would allow households and businesses that generate renewable power to be fully credited for the electricity they feed into the grid. Under current law, net metered customers who produce more power than they use lose those extra credits to the utility company at the end of a year.

–Northern Plains Resource Council