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2024 Montana Primary elections

Report Maps Paths To 100 Percent Clean Electricity In Missoula

Solar panel installation.
Wayne National Forest (CC-BY-2)
Solar panel installation.

The U.N. climate summit is underway in Poland. It's the first international climate conference since the 2015 Paris Agreement.

In 2013 Missoula set a goal: for all municipal operations to be carbon neutral by 2025. It created a roadmap to get there, complete with interim reduction goals for greenhouse gas emissions. And so far, the city’s on track.

In 2015 the city surpassed its target of a 10 percent emissions cut; reducing emissions by 11 percent.

Chase Jones, Missoula’s energy conservation and climate action coordinator, is in charge of managing implementation of the city’s climate plan.

"I think that we're a proud leader and model for the rest of Montana, and also a proud leader and a model for cities of similar size across the country," Jones says.

Last year the city had an interim goal of a 30 percent emissions cut. It’s still tabulating the data, but should have the results early next year.

Jones acknowledges there are challenges in reaching these goals: tight budgets and exponentially increasing emissions cuts make time a fleeting resource. But he feels the city’s making solid strides.

“And again, that's a reflection of great leadership both in local government and with all of these collaborative and amazing nonprofits and community groups like Climate Smart Missoula.”

Last Thursday, Climate Smart Missoula celebrated its three-year anniversary. It was formed in response to a community-oriented climate plan written by Missoula residents in 2015. Executive Director Amy Cilimburg says that while city government had a carbon-neutral goal, the community also wanted to be held accountable.

"People are asking for it. People are saying, 'how are we going to help solve climate change?' We need some relatively audacious and bold goals. And without those, it's kind of hard to know that you're making any progress."

This past October, Climate Smart, along with community partners, released the first draft of Missoula’s "100% Clean Electricity Options Report," an examination of how the city’s residents can transition to 100 percent carbon-free electricity by 2035.

According to the Sierra Club, Missoula’s not alone. More than 90 cities in the U.S. have commited to 100 percent clean energy goals.

Chase Jones, Missoula’s energy coordinator was one of the co-authors of the Options Report.

“The mantra that we go by is: energy efficiency first, electrify everything, or as much as possible, and green the grid,” Jones says.

To be clear, the Options Report is just starting with electricity use. According to data from a 2014 greenhouse gas emissions inventory, electricity use in Missoula accounts for about 23 percent of the total energy consumption. And of that, almost 40 percent comes from fossil fuels.

But that data’s old. A cryptocurrency mine and expanded breweries now demand more electricity from the grid. The cryptocurrency mine alone likely raises Missoula’s electricity use by 20 percent. Climate Smart hopes to update this data in coming years.

But according to Cilimburg, there’s still a lot of room for improvement.

“You know, solar panels on homes and businesses – we can do that today, we can do that right now. It's a really good time,” she says.

Cilimburg says she’s also hopeful about something called green tariffs, a way for customers to buy up to 100 percent of their electricity demand from clean energy sources through traditional utilities.

"And then I think there's there's some opportunity for big entities in the community, whether it's, you know, large industry, large businesses. Maybe it's a brewery. Maybe it's University of Montana, to actually do some larger – either energy savings efforts or, you know, adding renewable energy to their systems," Cilimburg says.

According to a 2017 Montana climate assessment report, climate change is already impacting cities here. Annual average temperatures rose between 2 and 3 degrees Farenheit between 1950 and 2015.

In the coming year, Climate Smart, along with city and county governments, plan to put together a climate adaptation and resiliency plan for the community.

“It's sort of the the ying [sic] to the yang of mitigating our greenhouse gas emissions," says Chase Jones with the City of Missoula. "It gets at understanding that climate change and those impacts are already here and we need to prepare our communities for those impacts we're seeing now, and impacts that we think we'll see in the future.”

Climate Smart would like community input on Missoula’s "100% Clean Electricity Options Report" draft. A final report will published by early next year.

For more information and to comment, visit:

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