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New West Daily Roundup for Nov. 10, 2016

Today in New West news: RMP proposes new methodology for calculating solar rates, medical marijuana approved in Montana as Colorado companies eye opportunities, and Bozeman Design Review criticizes Black-Olive project.

According to the Salt Lake Tribune, Rocky Mountain Power is toying with the idea of changing their methodology for calculating rates for solar power—a move that has industry leaders and solar advocates on edge because it would up the average power bill:

Under the new rate schedule, a typical net-metering customer — who uses 1,000 kilowatt hours per month, half generated by solar panels — would pay $74 a month, according to Rocky Mountain Power, up from the current average bill of $55 a month.

A customer without solar panels who uses the same amount of power currently pays an average monthly bill of $114, according to the utility.

The proposal, which the utility filed with the Utah Public Service Commission on Wednesday, would apply only to households with rooftop solar installations. These net-metering customers would pay a $15 service charge or base rate, as well as 3.81 cents per kilowatt hour of all electricity used.

They’d also pay a monthly “demand charge.” To calculate this charge, Rocky Mountain Power would look at a household’s electrical use for an entire month, find the hour in which power use peaked, and then multiply the kilowatts of power used during that single hour by $9.02.

Rocky Mountain Power estimates that the average net metering customer’s demand peaks at about 1.6 kilowatts.

Solar customers would be credited 3.81 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity generated by their arrays.

Currently, net-metering customers’ bills are calculated according to essentially the same rate schedule as customers who do not own their own solar panels. Customers pay a $6 service fee and buy electricity according to block rates that range from 8.5 cents to 14.5 cents per kilowatt hour. Net-metering customers are credited 10.6 cents per kilowatt hour of electricity generated.

Gary Hoogeveen, senior vice president of Rocky Mountain Power, said the utility company studied the matter and came to the conclusion that net-metering customers are an entirely different class of customer, whose bills should be calculated accordingly.

Ryan Evans, president of the Utah Solar Energy Association, calls the move blatantly “regressive” and opines that it “would like make it so that anyone who invests in solar would never see a return on their investment.” Likewise, Michael Shea, policy associate at HEAL Utah, said the proposal is too punishing toward rooftop solar households, overestimating the cost toward RMP’s ratepayers.

Michele Beck, director of the Utah Office of Consumer Services, says the solar industry’s views are moot, as RMP’s proposal falls strictly in line with whether there is “a fair allocation of costs.” The Tribune adds that the PSC must decide whether RMP has the authority to make this proposal in the first place—calling for a rate change on one part of their portfolio rather than analyzing rates across the board—and whether they can implement it before December 10, when RMP reportedly wants to “draw a line” between current net-metering customers and new ones.

Over in Montana, according to the Flathead Beacon, Initiative 182 has passed in Montana, reversing a proposal that went into effect August 31, largely limiting access to medical marijuana in the Treasure State. Among the most immediate effects: marijuana dispensaries across the state will re-open. From the Beacon:

The high court upheld a 2011 state law after a five-year legal battle to restrict marijuana providers to a maximum of three patients. The law forced dispensaries to close their doors and left thousands of registered users without a legal way to access the drug.

Under the initiative, marijuana dispensaries will reopen, and doctors will be able to certify more than 25 medical marijuana patients a year without being flagged by the state Board of Medical Examiners.

Post-traumatic stress disorder would be added as a qualifying condition, and police will not be able to conduct surprise inspections of dispensaries.

Supporters of the measure say it will allow safe access to marijuana for patients while requiring providers to be accountable to the state.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, which has had a booming marijuana industry since recreational use became fully legal in 2014, some businesses are already looking ahead to states like Montana and others who approved marijuana initiatives, according to the Denver Business Journal:

Voters in California, Nevada, Massachusetts, Maine, Florida, Arkansas, Montana, and North Dakota approved marijuana initiatives, with those states expected to add more than $7 billion in marijuana sales by 2020.

Locally, some Denver companies will try and take advantage of America’s loosening of marijuana restrictions.

Denver-based Leafbuyer.com, which is an online source for cannabis deals, said it planned to expand to enter those six states.

“We are excited to expand our platform to new and growing markets across the country. We are now beyond the tipping point. Our success in Colorado can be attributed to a customer-centric focus and intense grass roots marketing,” said Cayla Shortley, director of sales, said in a statement.

Finally, over in Bozeman, we’ve been following developments in the proposed Black-Olive project, which would dramatically alter the city’s skyline and stand as an example of the density some residents decry. Indeed, some residents were disappointed that the project by and large complies with city building code, but according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle, they might have another avenue to pursue—aesthetics:

Neighbors hoping Bozeman’s development review process will put the brakes on developer Andy Holloran’s Black-Olive project got some welcome news at the meeting of the Bozeman’s Design Review Board Wednesday night as city planners and board members expressed concern with the building’s aesthetics, including its scale.

“It has design elements of Interstate 90 interchange building as much as anything else, I think,” said board member Mark Hufstetler.

Neighbors, many of whom have expressed concern over the project’s size, location and impact, packed the early stages of the design board’s five-hour meeting in city commission chambers to fire capacity.

Specific concern from the board focused in part on some of the materials proposed for the building’s exterior, namely corrugated metal siding and a cedar rain screen. While the city does allow modern architecture, said planner Brian Krueger, those don’t have “a level of permanence and quality appropriate for downtown Bozeman.”

The concern, Hufstetler said, is that those materials could age poorly.

“I think there’s perhaps some concern that some of the materials in here might not obtain a patina but might just end up looking kind of shabby,” he said.

Design review board members also echoed complaints raised by neighbors about the building’s scale on a site adjacent to single-family homes, saying they think the design could do more to step back floors or use architectural features to break up monolithic building faces.

Holloran disagreed with the assessment, presenting new renderings of the project that includes a few different color palettes. Holloran also disagreed with the building materials criticism, citing the new Lark Hotel as an example of Bozeman architecture that uses metal and wood elements successfully.

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