April 24, 2021

Community Solar Access 

Community Solar Access allows individual subscribers to harness the benefits of solar panels without needing to install them at their homes, benefitting renters, homes without solar exposure, businesses and public institutions. As a form of “shared renewables,” customers support larger, centralized installations of renewable energy while lowering their energy bills.


There are very few CSA projects in Montana unlike other states in the region. Several states have adopted policies that encourage Community Solar Access, notably Colorado and Minnesota, which have become leaders in CSA project development. 

Impediments to CSA in Montana

Montana does not have any policies that directly promote community solar, but does have a few policies that help promote solar in general. Montana does, for example, require NorthWestern Energy to offer a renewable energy option on their electric bills. NWE also offers USB Program Funds for funding solar projects. (MSMA)

“...Montana’s net metering policy does not explicitly allow for virtual net metering, which may limit NorthWestern’s ability to implement community solar projects.” (MSMA) However, Bozeman’s 2016 Demonstration 338 kW Solar Project, a partnership between the city and NorthWestern, provides virtual net-metering for approximately 60 residential and commercial customers. A report on the project will be published in 2022, which could positively influence the legislature to pass CSA friendly regulations for the benefit of NWE customers. 

There are specific Montana laws regarding net metering that apply to NorthWestern, as a result of its deregulation a decade ago, that specifically rule out the most common community solar project structures, limiting the utility’s ability to implement these types of projects.”(MSMA) The state’s electric cooperatives are able to offer CSA projects to their customers, with 4 projects operating now. 

Although the Federal tax credit for solar would apply to a CSA project for each subscriber, the state’s tax credit does not currently apply. In addition, the property tax structure would penalize CSA customers over individual solar installations. 

Flathead Electric Cooperative is the state leader in CSA, with the first 85kw project built on land they own. Because the cost of land is high they have now begun to develop smaller projects on rooftops using the local schools, public buildings, parking structures, and other private buildings. 

This is a model that could work in our HMU (Historic Mixed Use) neighborhood, and Idaho Pole, especially with the massive new developments about to begin. The city is providing 50K in TIF funds for the Brewery parking garage in exchange for a portion of public spaces. Although not a CSA, the Missoula Parking Commission included a 85kw solar array on the roof of its 2013 mixed use parking structure. If Missoula can do it, so can we! 

A partnership with the developers and the city could provide NENA apartment dwellers and renters the opportunity to lower their energy costs through a Community Solar Access project on the garage roof. In fact, with the number of developments in the works, several smaller CSA projects could be part of development plans, using rooftops. The solar generated could be subscribed to by lower income households as part of the affordable housing solution. 

If you would like to join a CSA awareness initiative, and help promote CSA’s in Bozeman, please contact David Chambers at dchambers@csp2.org, or Chandler Dayton at chandler.dayton@gmail.com








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