At our Climate Smart Missoula monthly meetups, we love teasing out the connections between climate change and a wide variety of issues that affect our community. Sometimes, those connections may not be obvious until we dig below the surface – like in the case of local food and agriculture.
Not so this month. What’s the first image that comes to mind when you think of climate change solutions? A wind turbine? A solar panel? You’re probably not alone – developing renewable energy is a key focus of climate change mitigation strategies, and for good reason. Burning fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural gas) for energy contributes by far the biggest share of greenhouse gas emissions here in the U.S., so we know that shifting to clean, renewable energy sources like wind, solar, and hydro power is the way of the future. Thankfully, that future is closer every day.
One of the goals laid out in our community climate action plan is to move Missoula towards renewable energy. There’s a lot more we can do – but we’re well on our way. Last night, a few good folks were on hand to share a little more about what renewable energy looks like here in Missoula.
Local Control over Energy
Most of us don’t get to choose where our energy comes from. Our utility – here in the Missoula area, either Northwestern Energy or the Missoula Electric Co-op – buys power from a mixture of power sources, some renewable and others fossil fuel-based, and that mixture of electrons turns your lights on when you flip the switch. But there are some exciting new ways Missoulians can have more control over their energy. One is through community solar, a shared arrangement that allows community members to invest in part of a larger solar installation in exchange for clean energy. As a democratically-run cooperative, Mark Hayden, the general manager for the Missoula Electric Co-op (MEC), explained that MEC installed a 50 kilowatt community solar array in December 2015 in response to co-op members’ desire for more renewable energy. For $700, members essentially purchase one of the panels, guaranteeing them that panel’s energy output for 25 years. There was such demand that it sold out in just a couple months, so MEC has built a second community solar array, this time on the roof of Frenchtown High School. And you may be asking - what about those who can’t afford $700? In collaboration with a local bank and the federal Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program they help make the benefits of the community solar project accessible to low-income members. Pretty cool stuff!
Solarize Missoula is another program that’s moving renewable energy forward in our community, by making the process of rooftop solar installation streamlined and easy for homeowners. Bryan von Lossberg, a key Solarize organizer, explained that through the program four local solar installers put up over 42 new rooftop systems on homes around Missoula last winter – supporting our local economy while shrinking our community carbon footprint. We’re pretty proud that we got to work with great partners like the Montana Renewable Energy Association and the Missoula Federal Credit Union to get Solarize off the ground last year – and it was such a resounding success that we’re doing it again! Keep on the lookout for more information soon and contact us if you would like to be on the list for Solarize Round 2.
The Big Picture
We’re thrilled to see more solar going up around town, and we love to see projects that save money and are good for the planet. But we know that there’s lots more progress to be made. Here at Climate Smart, we’ll continue to advocate for laws and regulations at the local and state level that are friendly towards renewable energy development, and support efforts that make renewable energy more accessible for all.
But it’s important to remember that the cheapest (and most climate smart) energy is the energy we don’t consume! Anything we can do to be more energy-efficient (like trading out old incandescent light bulbs for LEDs) or simply use less energy goes a long way towards reducing our carbon footprint and boosting the impact of new renewable energy sources. We may not all be able to put solar panels on our roof or take part in a community solar project – but collectively, we can all use energy more wisely and use our votes and voices to advocate for clean energy solutions!