A recent study indicates that only 20% of U.S. communities pledged are on track to meet climate goals by 2050, according to an article in Courthouse News. The pledges address renewable energy and the article indicates that this kind of change over time could be very difficult.

Missoula has two climate pledges:

  1. 100% clean electricity for the urban area by 2030
  2. Carbon neutral in County operations by 2035

We reached out to the City of Missoula to learn about how Missoula is doing with its climate pledges. Caroline Bean and Alli Kane in the Climate Action Program provided some details about Missoula's progress.

Q: Is Missoula on track to meet its climate goals? 

A:  We are currently negotiating with NorthWestern Energy to develop a Green Power Program, which would bring new, renewable energy onto the grid. Should this project be successful, we are on track to meet our interim goal of 80% clean electricity by 2025. Missoula County residents outside the urban area are primarily served by Missoula Electric Coop, which is currently 95% carbon free.

The carbon neutrality goal, which was adopted in 2019, also set an interim goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions 30% from 2016 levels by 2025. A 2021 greenhouse emissions inventory, conducted last year, showed a 9.4% reduction. As of 2021 we are approximately 1/3 of the way toward achieving our interim goal and have made a lot of progress since then. The emissions inventory will be published in 2024.

Additionally, we have a climate resiliency plan, Climate Ready Missoula, which identifies many strategies to increase community resiliency to the local effects of climate change, such as longer flood and wildfire seasons. This is a planning document rather than a “pledge,” but it is still an important part of our climate work. Climate Ready Missoula is currently being implemented by a diverse group of partners across the County.

Q: What has Missoula accomplished toward these goals?

A: As mentioned above, we have primarily been working with NorthWestern Energy to bring new, utility-scale renewable energy onto the grid through the Green Power Program.  We have also worked with community partners to increase rooftop solar installations across the County, as well as build the workforce needed to complete these projects.

We helped form a diverse coalition (Missoula County, Missoula Economic Partnership, Climate Smart Missoula, Mountain Home Montana, and City of Missoula)  working to increase diversity in the clean energy trades, and our work was awarded support by both the Department of Energy and the Department of Labor. We have also been successful in securing funding from the Environmental Protection Agency to expand support to residents navigating clean energy projects.

We’ve accomplished a great deal towards our carbon neutrality goal. We added solar arrays to several of our buildings including the Missoula Public Library, G.W. Marks Exploration Center and a 450kW system at the Detention Center, the largest rooftop array in the state of Montana, in addition to purchasing more electricity from emissions-free sources.

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We conducted an investment-grade audit of three buildings with the highest energy demand in order to prioritize energy-efficient upgrades. We also adopted an Energy Efficient Building Policy to guide construction and major renovation projects. The Green Power Program has the potential to significantly reduce our emissions from buildings and facilities as well.

Our fleet managers have replaced many gas-powered vehicles with more fuel-efficient or hybrid models, reducing fleet vehicle emissions by 17%. Additionally, our employee commute emissions dropped 31%, likely due to the adoption of more flexible scheduling and an increase in remote work.

Q: What is still left for Missoula to accomplish?

While we are on track to meet our interim goal for 100% clean electricity, we know that we will need to do more beyond the Green Power Program to meet our ultimate goal. This roadmap to 100% clean electricity is still being developed.

Alongside the emissions inventory, we will also be finalizing a carbon neutrality plan in 2024. This plan will include strategies for carbon neutrality in 4 sectors: Buildings and Facilities, Fleet Vehicles and Equipment, Employee Commute, and Water and Wastewater. Strategies will include electrifying buildings and vehicles, sourcing emissions-free electricity, reducing energy use, increasing the number of sustainable commutes, and continuing to develop on-site renewable energy at our facilities.

Q: Is there anything that the average Missoulian can do to help achieve these goals?

A: We have a lot of great resources available for Missoula County residents who are interested in this work. You can follow along with our 100% Clean Electricity work at our Missoula County Voice Page, where we will post opportunities to get involved in the future.

Another thing you can do is make a plan to electrify your house at ElectrifyMissoula.org. The City and County are currently operating a $500 water heater rebate program to make this transition easier. You can read more and find out how to apply here.

Lastly, our staff loves to hear your ideas on how to move Missoula County’s climate goals forward. If you would like to chat, please get in touch with either of us (cbean@missoulacounty.us or akane@missoulacounty.us ) to talk more.

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