Public Encouraged to Comment on Draft Plan to Advance County, City Clean Electricity Goal

Missoula County and the City of Missoula today released a draft Implementation Plan that identifies collaborative projects to advance the city and county’s goal of 100% clean electricity for the Missoula urban area by 2030.

The city and county developed the plan with NorthWestern Energy in accordance with a memorandum of understanding signed by the three entities last year. The draft plan includes several projects to advance renewable energy and energy efficiency in the state. Among these are the development of a “green tariff,” which will give NorthWestern Energy customers the choice to purchase power from newly developed solar or wind farms; a community solar project in the Missoula area; and pilots of new rate structures that have the potential to facilitate the transition to a clean, modern electric grid.

The county and city invite input from the public on the draft plan. The document is available for review at https://www.engagemissoula.com/missoulas-100-clean-electricity-initiative. Comments on the draft plan are requested by 5 p.m. Monday, March 1. There will be an additional opportunity for public comment once the plan is scheduled for consideration at a meeting of the city council and board of county commissioners.

“Our 100% clean electricity goal was driven by our obligation to address climate change in order to protect our public health, safety and quality of life in Missoula County,” Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier said. “This Implementation Plan is an essential step toward that goal.”

The county and city jointly established the goal of 100% clean electricity in 2019, and subsequently signed an MOU with NorthWestern Energy committing the three entities to work together to pursue that goal. The MOU also committed the three entities to develop an Implementation Plan and to report on progress annually.

All the projects identified in the plan will require the collaborative efforts of NorthWestern Energy, Missoula County, the City of Missoula and other stakeholders, and some will also require approval by the Montana Public Service Commission.

“The projects identified in this plan have great potential to accelerate the shift to a cleaner electric grid,” Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg said. “However, they aren’t enough on their own, to reach 100% clean electricity. We look forward to advancing these projects with NorthWestern Energy while also actively seeking additional partners and opportunities to achieve our goal.”

Missoula County, Missoula, Bozeman and Helena Partner in 100% Clean Electricity Effort

Missoula County, the City of Missoula, the City of Bozeman and the City of Helena this week entered into an interlocal agreement pledging to pursue a green tariff to advance their shared clean energy goals. Over the past two years, all four local governments have adopted resolutions committing to 100% clean electricity by 2030. 

The interlocal agreement authorizes the four local governments to jointly hire a consultant with technical expertise in green tariffs and utility rate design to work collaboratively with NorthWestern Energy and inform the development of a green tariff that most effectively advances the local governments’ 100% clean electricity goals. All four local governments had previously allocated funds in their FY21 budgets to support this effort. 

A green tariff is not a tax. Rather, it is a mechanism by which customers of regulated utilities have the option to buy power from newly developed renewable energy sources through a special rate (or “tariff”) on their utility bills. In 2019, the Montana Public Service Commission directed NorthWestern Energy to initiate a stakeholder process to explore the development of a green tariff. This stakeholder process is currently underway, and Missoula County and the cities of Missoula, Bozeman and Helena are participating in it.  

The Missoula City Council approved the interlocal agreement on Feb. 1; the Bozeman City Commission on Feb. 2; the Missoula Board of County Commissioners on Feb. 4; and the Helena City Commission on Feb. 8. 

Elected officials from all four local governments expressed enthusiasm for the partnership. 

Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier: “We’re so pleased to be partnering with the cities of Missoula, Bozeman and Helena. The green tariff is an important step in the right direction, but it’s only the first step. I look forward to our partnership continuing beyond this interlocal agreement as we continue to pursue our shared 100% clean electricity goals.” 

Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg: “It is eminently clear that Montanans value clean energy. And anyone looking forward sees we have the innovative expertise and resources to meet that vision. We invite other communities to join our collaborative effort to build the statewide energy portfolio Montana’s future demands.”  

Bozeman City Commissioner Terry Cunningham: “Bozeman’s ability to meet its stated goals is dependent upon a rapid transition to renewable energy sources by the utility. Together, our communities represent about a quarter of NorthWestern’s customers, and this partnership is our best chance to exert the collective influence that will be required to facilitate this transition.”  

Helena City Commissioner Sean Logan: “This agreement represents a novel and promising approach to advancing clean energy in Montana. We are optimistic that this historic collaboration between the communities and NorthWestern Energy will deliver important environmental and economic benefits to the citizens of our state.” 

Solar array purchase moves Missoula County closer to clean energy goals

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Missoula County will move a step closer to achieving its renewable energy goals by purchasing a portion of the clean electricity generated by the Missoula Electric Cooperation’s newest community solar array in Bonner.

By subscribing to 37 of the 189 panels that make up the project, the county will own 20% of the electricity generated by the array for 25 years. The cost to purchase the output of the 37 panels is about $24,000.

Commissioners Dave Strohmaier and Juanita Vero, along with staff and officials from the county and City of Missoula, joined MEC General Manager Mark Hayden on an appropriately sunny day last week for a tour of the Solarshare K3 Garden at the KettleHouse Brewery.

“Missoula County is committed to 100% clean electricity by 2030, and that means maximizing our investments in renewable energy today,” Strohmaier says. “This is a great opportunity to purchase clean, affordable energy, and we encourage county residents who are MEC members to join us and buy into the project if they’re able.”

Hayden says there are about 30 panels left to purchase in the Solarshare K3 Garden. MEC members interested in purchasing a panel can find more details online.

The purchase helps the county make progress on two major goals aimed at combatting climate change: In March, the county adopted a goal of carbon neutrality in county government operations by 2035, and in April, commissioners approved a joint resolution with the City of Missoula, which also subscribes to output from K3 Garden panels, to achieve 100% clean electricity for the Missoula urban area by 2030.

With the K3 Garden purchase, about 63% percent of county operations are now powered by clean energy. Missoula County also owns the output of 10 panels from MEC’s Solarshare 1 project in Lolo and 49 panels from its Solarshare 2 project in Frenchtown.

“Our goals are ambitious but necessary, given the great risks that climate change poses to Missoula County,” says Diana Maneta, the county’s energy conservation and sustainability coordinator. “In addition to participating in Solarshare K3, we’re looking at opportunities to use energy more efficiently, incorporate solar into our buildings and support the development of larger-scale clean energy projects.”

The county, in partnership with Climate Smart Missoula and the city, is also leading the Climate Ready Missoula planning process to prepare for the local impacts of climate change.

Missoula County has also received recognition for its sustainability efforts several times in the past year, including:

  • Silver designation from SolSmart, a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy that recognizes local governments for making it faster, easier and more affordable for property owners to go solar. Missoula County was deemed the first SolSmart county in Montana when it earned a Bronze designation in 2017.
  • A 2019 U.S. Green Building Council Mountain West Leadership Award for the Missoula County Courthouse, which achieved LEED Silver status following a years-long renovation.
  • The Emerging Conservationist Award from the Missoula Conservation Roundtable, which honored Maneta for her role in establishing goals and regulations related to renewable energy and sustainability.

To learn even more about Missoula County’s sustainability and conservation efforts, head to http://missoula.co/sustainability. There, you’ll find information on going solar, recycling and composting, building climate resiliency and more.