From coast to coast and across America, at least 110 cities have publicly committed to reducing their impact on climate change. This is a huge step in the right direction, but there is still a whole lot more work to be done considering that there are over 20,000 U.S. communities classified as “cities” and thousands more small towns to embrace the trend as well.
Some regions, such as the Mountain West, have been a bit slower to adopt 100% renewable energy campaigns because of a heavy reliance on the coal industry or feasibility fears that stand in the way of progress. A report released by the Montana Research and Policy Center last year found that Montana has been falling behind the rest of the country for sources of renewable energy – just 13% growth in solar here compared to 40% nationwide and less than a 4% boost in wind energy compared to the fivefold nationwide increase.
However, local communities like Missoula, Montana are giving us hope that change is around the corner and that climate change can be a thing of the past.
In early April 2019, the Missoula City Council and County Commission voted unanimously to fully commit the city to renewable energy by 2030. This is a bold move for Missoula because it is the very first Montana city to make such a commitment. Yet behind the scenes, Climate Smart Missoula and the County Commission have been pushing for this for over five years. Meanwhile, the Montana Renewable Energy Association, a nonprofit founded in 2000, has been working to influence public policy to support onsite and community-scale renewable energy to save natural resources, boost resilience, increase independence, and create jobs.
Missoula plans to harness the power of the sun, wind, and water to power its neighborhoods. Fortunately, the local community isn’t starting from scratch. In fact, Missoula has an advantage over other communities in the region because about 60% of its energy already comes from renewable sources.
What happens now is a deep dive into Missoula’s renewable energy options and propelling those options into motion. Partnerships with Northwestern Energy, the local provider, will be essential to closing the gap for that remaining 40%. Another key partnership is with the U.S. Department of Energy SunShot Initiative’s SolSmart team to make it easier and more affordable for people and businesses to install solar systems to generate energy. One promising project involves investing in the Gibson Dam, which could not only provide homegrown, clean energy, but also create jobs, stimulate the local economy, and reduce Montana’s reliance on international markets.
With over 94 million acres of land statewide, there are some huge opportunities for renewable energy growth in Montana. And now with the trailblazing city of Missoula leading the way, we’re confident that Montana is on the right track to preserve its clean mountain air for the future.