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Several net-metering bills got their first hearing in the Montana Legislature this week, setting off another session in which lawmakers will attempt to fine-tune how small electricity generators sell excess energy to the state’s electric grid.

“Net metering” refers to the credits that dispersed energy producers, including homeowners and businesses throughout the state, receive from utility companies that own the transmission infrastructure to distribute their excess power.

On Tuesday, a pair of bills introduced by Sen. Pat Connell, R-Hamilton, won the approval of utility companies operating in the state, while opponents testified the measures would effectively dampen the state’s growing sector of rooftop solar and other small electricity operations.

Senate Bill 1 would require dispersed generators to install “smart grid” technology that he said would improve the safety and reliability of the electrical grid, including electricity meters equipped with inverters and two-way communication systems to limit potential disruption to the grid.

“I am just suggesting that those folks in the exponential expansion of net metering need to be just as responsive to the protection of the grid and the supply of electricity for all of our constituents,” Connell said, noting that he supports the growth of independent generators in the state’s energy sector.

Renewable-energy advocates argued against the technology mandate, however. Orion Thornton, with the Montana Renewable Energy Association said the proposal is premature, given the absence of existing standards for the technology required by the bill.

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