Montana Public Radio

Helena Wants To Ditch Fossil Fuels By 2030

Feb 25, 2020

A second Montana city has set a goal to turn away from fossil-fuels by 2030. The city of Helena approved a resolution Monday to move toward 100 percent renewable electricity.

The five members of the city commission unanimously backed the measure that aims to shift the energy makeup powering the Helena area.

The resolution states the goal of moving Helena’s roughly 39 percent fossil fuel-based electricity supply to zero in the next decade as concerns mount over projected impacts of climate change.

A crowd packed the city commission chamber ahead of the vote. With standing room only, 30 people lined up to voice their support of the electricity goal. No one spoke in opposition.

Bob Adams, a longtime Helena resident and seasonal park ranger at Glacier National Park, said he’s part of the generation that brought this mess.

"So thank you very much for bringing this forward. This is the right way to go. Ten years is an ambitious window, but more power to you."

The Helena resolution sets a citywide target of "100 percent clean, renewable electricity for the Helena Community by 2030."

The resolution includes a call for the city to work with utility companies serving the area to supply electricity with renewable energy sources like wind and solar power. It also pledges the local government to invest in renewable and energy efficiency projects on city owned properties.

Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins asked the crowd in the council chambers to challenge the city to reach its goal.

"This is what happens when the community can come together and say this is what we want. But I want to caution you to know that this is only the beginning.”

Credit (PD)

Len Broberg, a professor of environmental studies at the University of Montana, says it’s easier for smaller cities with less energy demands to mandate strict carbon rules. But he says even smaller markets can make a dent in global emissions.

"In lots of ways these smaller actions can add up to make a much bigger picture."

Broberg says cities like Helena and Missoula — which became the first local governments in Montana to adopt carbon reduction plans last year — will have to prove how realistic their goals are. But he says ambitions goals, considering what's a risk, are a good start.

Diana Maneta works on Missoula county’s climate change projects. She says not enough is being done to address the global threat of greenhouse gas emissions’ impact on the environment.

"I don’t feel like it’s been sufficient at the federal and state levels, so that’s really left it to local governments."

But Maneta says there’s only so much local governments like Missoula and Helena can do.

"Ultimately I believe that getting to 100 clean electricity will require a more systemic change, and that we'll be most successful if we can partner with our energy providers to make this transition."

One of the biggest energy providers in Missoula, Helena and the rest of Montana is NorthWestern Energy.

Meneta says Missoula is working on a memorandum of understanding with the utility to formalize a partnership for how the local government's climate goals can mesh with NorthWestern’s energy supply. Maneta says that agreement could be on paper in the next few weeks.

Once finalized, it’ll be the first agreement of its kind between the state’s largest utility provider and a Montana local government over renewable energy supply goals. That’s according to Jo Dee Black, a public relations specialist with NorthWestern Energy.

Black says other agreements like this could be made in the future with local governments in Montana based on their individual energy goals.

"It’s an opportunity for NorthWestern to provide communities with resources needed to meet their sustainability goals with resources that are available within NorthWestern Energy."

Black says NorthWestern’s energy generation across Montana is currently more than 60 percent carbon free, made up of wind, hydro and a little solar. The company has committed to reducing the carbon intensity of its electric energy by 90 percent by 2045.

Black wasn’t immediately able to say whether Missoula and Helena's goal of reaching 100 percent renewable energy to power the areas by 2030 was achievable.