Sustainable Missoula: For 100% clean electricity, look within and beyond Missoula

Abby and Soren accompany Erik Huseth as he testifies on the moral imperative of clean energy and climate action at a joint hearing of the Senate and House Energy committees last week. (Tim Spangler)

Editor’s note: For the next several months, Sustainable Missoula will run a series of articles to build broader understanding of the 0-50-100 sustainability framework: Zero Waste, 50 percent sustainable trips, and 100 percent clean electricity for Missoula. This article is the first in a series on 100 percent clean electricity.

So far in this 2019 series on the 0-50-100 climate and sustainability framework, we’ve given you the big picture, dived into waste and explored climate-friendly ways of getting from A to B. So now, what’s up with 100 percent?

If you’ve heard about, or even read, Missoula’s 100 percent Clean Electricity Options Report (version 1 came out a few months ago and we continue to make updates), you know that Missoula has tools and strategies to make progress toward a 100 percent goal, including a whole bunch of renewable energy and energy saving efforts. Some of these are practical, tangible things we can all do: We may not be suffering under the polar vortex here, but winter weatherization is a cheap and easy energy saver; and yes, it’s still a good time to go solar if you can.

But there’s only so much we can do as individuals, and within Missoula. To make faster progress toward our 100 percent goal, we need better laws, policies and rules to enable more clean electricity options in Montana. (And of course, action at the federal level would make our lives much easier, but we can’t afford to wait.) So let’s get political, and step outside of Missoula for a moment.

We’re a few weeks into Montana’s 66th legislative session, and sure enough there’s the good, the bad and the ugly. Although we’re not in Helena day in and day out, we do pay attention and get help from our nonprofit friends like the Montana Renewable Energy Association and MEIC. We’ll do our best to keep you updated on our Montana Legislature web page and you can connect with our partners there, but here are some of the bills we’re following right now.

Climate change and renewable energy bills that we SUPPORT:

  • HB 78, sponsored by Rep. Perry, D-Hungry Horse, would be a step forward for transparency and consumer protection by requiring for-profit utilities (NorthWestern Energy and Montana-Dakota Utilities) to hold at least two public meetings as part of their long-term resource planning processes.
  • HB 193, sponsored by Rep. Dunwell, D-Helena, would require large sources of greenhouse gases (coal-fired power plants and refineries) to pay $10 per ton of greenhouse gases that they emit and would require large industrial polluters to incorporate climate risks caused by greenhouse gases into the cost of doing business.
  • HB 241, sponsored by Rep. Olsen, D-Missoula, would require public utilities to report a plan for 100 percent renewable energy use.
  • SB 188, sponsored by Sen. Malek, D-Missoula, would also increase transparency and consumer protection by establishing an advisory committee and requiring a competitive solicitation process as part of public utilities’ resource planning.
  • SB 189, the Montana Climate Action Act, is sponsored by Sen. Barrett, D-Missoula, and would establish a tax on carbon emissions and distribute the revenue via a property tax relief “circuit breaker.”
  • SB 190, sponsored by Sen. Mike Phillips, D-Bozeman, would establish statewide carbon emission reduction targets and an emissions monitoring and reporting framework.

Do these bills have a chance? Nothing’s certain, but even if they don’t become law, our elected officials need to hear from us that climate action matters. You can make your voice heard in person, at a committee hearing or on lobby day (keep reading), or you can contact your legislators (find ‘em here) and ask for their support. A word of advice: You can call or email your senator or representative with specific talking points on specific bills, but it’s also OK to share your priorities and values more generally. They do want to hear what you care about, and they do not always need the wonky details or even the bill number.

Every legislative session, there are also bills to OPPOSE, including efforts to suppress solar energy. Sure enough, one such attempt is HB 144, which would eliminate solar and energy conservation tax credits. Simply put, it’s an attack on rooftop solar and net metering tax incentives for home and business owners. Elected officials should be incentivizing clean energy, not making it harder.

Our Legislature may have its challenges, but its relative accessibility to regular citizens is unique. We encourage you to stay connected with what’s happening in Helena this session, either virtually or in person. Next week, there’s a fantastic opportunity to join other climate and clean energy supporters at a Community Lobby Day on February 6th at the Capitol. You can take part in a citizen lobby training in the morning, then head up to the Capitol to meet with legislators and participate/observe committee hearings.

Before we return to Missoula, we’ve got one last quick detour to Butte, the headquarters for NorthWestern Energy, our main power utility. Any week now, NorthWestern will release its latest Resource Procurement Plan. Any bets on where they think we should get more electricity?  Could be solar, wind, energy efficiency or (ahem) natural gas. Once this plan is released, there’ll be 60 days to comment. We’ll let you know right here.  We’ll all need to lend our voices.

Over this next year, stay tuned and help us work to improve all our available options to get to 100 percent clean electricity for Missoula, and across Montana.

Amy Cilimburg is Executive Director and Abby Huseth is Energy Program Coordinator at Climate Smart Missoula. This Sustainable Missoula column is brought to you – via the Missoula Current – every Friday by Climate Smart Missoulaand Home ReSource.

Upcoming Sustainability Events:

February 4 – 15. University of Montana Commuter Challenge. If you’re at UM, register your department today!

February 5. Green New Deal Watch Party, hosted by Climate Action Collective and the Sunrise Movement. University Center, room 340. 5:30 p.m.

February 6. Conservation Community Lobby Dayat the Montana State Capitol. 9:30am – 5pm.

February 7. The Green New Deal: a community conversationhosted by 350 Montana. Goodworks Ventures (129 West Alder). 7pm.

February 8. Winter Clean Commute Day. Don’t let the snow keep you from walking, biking or riding the bus to one of the 4 free commuter breakfasts happening around town.

February 13. Faith & Climate Action MT meets to plan actions for the MT Legislature. All welcome. Emmaus House, 532 University Ave. 12 – 1 p.m.

February 14. Climate Smart Missoula’s Monthly Meetup: Transportation & Smart Growthis this month’s topic. Imagine Nation Brewing from 5 – 7 p.m.

Feb 21. Celebrate the launch of Missoula Electric Co-op’s newest community solar projectatop the KettleHouse brewery in Bonner. 5 – 7pm.

View more climate and energy events via Climate Smart Missoula’s Calendar.

There are many more conservation events for 2019 HERE.

Clean energy advocates urge NW Energy to forgo fossil fuels in new power portfolio