HELENA, Mont. -

Federal regulators say Montana's Public Service Commission is improperly hindering small, renewable energy projects in the state.
    
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission said Thursday that the rules the PSC created to implement a federal energy conservation policy create an "unreasonable obstacle" for the independent projects seeking to sell their power.
    
Part of the Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act of 1978 created an obligation for utilities to offer to purchase power from small, renewable power production facilities of 80 megawatts or less.
    
Several small power projects in Montana complained to FERC, arguing Montana's rules require projects larger than 10 megawatts to win a competitive bid, but that NorthWestern Energy doesn't offer enough bidding opportunities.
    
With the order, the PSC can either change its rules or the power developers can pursue the issue in court.