How Missoula Is Making The Shift Towards Renewable Energy

Missoula is making some serious changes to help the environment. In May 2022, Missoula announced plans to reform land usage, update codes surrounding zoning, and make progress on its plans for 100% clean electricity. Former city council president Bryan von Lossberg was hired as a consultant in order to allow the city to begin working on clean energy while the new private action specialist settles in. Von Lossberg’s political experience and connections with NorthWestern Energy make him an ideal candidate for laying the groundwork for Missoula’s clean energy future. If the County Commissioners and City Council have their way, the whole urban area will run on 100% clean electricity by 2030.

Achieving Clean Energy

The quest for renewable energy in Missoula won’t be solved with a single step. Instead, policymakers are focusing on taking small, tangible actions that reduce the city’s dependence on non-renewable energy. In November 2021, Missoula County finished installing the biggest rooftop solar array in Montana at the County Detention Facility. This array of solar panels has been augmented by a program that works with community partners to help Missoula residents install their own rooftop solar solutions.

According to EcoWatch, adding a rechargeable battery to your solar panel setup is one of the best ways to increase your environmental impact and save money on your power bill. Not only can you store energy from sunny afternoons for use in the evening, but the energy stored in your battery ensures you’ll have a sustainable energy source in case of a power outage. Climate Smart Missoula has put together educational packages to inform homeowners on the best ways to install their panels, secure financing, and more, allowing the city to benefit from more clean electricity while saving taxpayers money on their power bills.

The Nuclear Question

On April 20, Montana State Senator Duane Ankney wrote an op-ed in the Billings Gazette advocating for new nuclear power plants to be built in Montana. He argued that nuclear plants can operate all day, regardless of weather conditions, allowing them to form the critical baseline of the energy system when options like wind, solar, and geothermal power can’t meet demand. Nuclear plants can take years to be approved, designed, and built, meaning that Montana should hurry if it wants to take advantage of nuclear power in the coming years. Nuclear plants are not without their critics, however, and many concerned citizens and experts alike have vocally opposed Senator Ankney’s ideas. While nuclear power is safe in theory, the complicated bureaucracy that surrounds their operation has mired taxpayer-funded plants in other states, resulting in canceled plans or early closure with citizens footing the bill.

One Step at a Time

Missoula’s journey to clean energy won’t happen overnight. Instead of promising a miracle that won’t happen, city officials are taking small, concrete steps towards a clean future. In many ways, it seems like the biggest obstacle to clean energy comes from outdated legislation. Venerable mining laws discourage safe and cost-efficient extraction of metals used in things like panels, batteries, and power plants, while the city’s 50-year-old zoning codes make it harder for developers to build energy-efficient buildings for use as homes or business centers. On the concrete front, completed projects like the solar panels at the detention facility show that Missoula is serious about change, while their initiative to connect homeowners with solar panels helps get the community involved.

By starting small and adjusting regulations to make the switch seamless, city planners can build a foundation from which to launch the city’s clean energy revolution, Over the next couple of years, Missoula’s continued small steps will result in a city where clean energy is reliable, affordable, and ubiquitous.