By Martin Kidston

Despite modest growth in municipal government over the last six years, the city of Missoula achieved its goal of cutting greenhouse gas emissions 10 percent by 2015, much of it coming through a reduction in natural gas and a change in employee commuting habits.

In fact, the city cut municipal emissions by 11 percent overall.

Chase Jones, the city's energy conservation coordinator, told the City Council's Parks and Conservation Committee on Wednesday that by 2015, the city had shaved its carbon output 11 percent over figures included in a 2008 baseline inventory.

The city's Energy Conservation and Climate Action Plan set 2015 as the first benchmark on which to measure progress. The next benchmark arises in 2017, when the plan calls for a reduction of 30 percent.

Carbon neutrality is sought by 2025.

“With all the growth in city operations, we have managed to maintain and even reduce our emissions, and we need to continue to do that,” said Jones. “Our energy efficiency investments in simple things like insulation, sealing cracks in windows and doors, they really do make a different across the portfolio in the many buildings the city operates.”

The latest figures found that by 2015, the city's electricity consumption had increased 14 percent over 2008. Chris Essman, a member of Energy Corp America, attributed the increase to municipal growth.

Since 2008, he said, the city saw a 25 percent increase in building square-footage, much of that due to the opening of the Park Place garage on Front Street.

“There's a relative increase in electricity consumption over time,” said Essman. “When you total that up, we saw a 14 percent increase in 2015 compared to 2008. We are a growing city and we'll only continue to grow.”

But where electricity usage increased, the city's consumption of natural gas decrease 20 percent over 2008, despite a modest increase in days where heating and cooling was needed. The fleet of city-owned vehicles saw little change in greenhouse gas output.

Jones said the vehicle fleet represented an area where progress could be made.

“We hope to develop a vehicle replacement policy so that we take a harder look at, one, keeping the vehicle, two, what's the use of that vehicle and, three, can we switch to hybrid or electric technology,” Jones said. “If we had a policy that holds folks more accountable in achieving our climate action goals, there's a good chance to mix that up.”

City employees also contributed to the municipality's overall reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Since 2008, employees marked a 14 percent reduction in carbon output, much of it attributed to sustainable transportation.

Mountain Line's zero fair initiative was launched in January of 2015, and more city employees are riding the bus to work, or finding alternative ways to commute, according to Essman.

“We calculated the miles traveled and calculated the carbon footprint, and we saw a 14-percent decrease in 2015,” said Essman. “It was great to see the number employees who bike and bus to work. This makes a positive impact on our city emissions.”

However, Essman added, the survey used to measure employees' commuting habits saw a low response rate of just 30 percent. As the city looks to the next benchmark in 2017, he said, the study will dig deeper in employee commuting habits.

The overall picture suggests efforts made by the city are paying off, Essman said.

“We saw an increase in electricity consumption, a decreases in natural gas consumption, slight increase in vehicle fleet, and slight decrease in employee commute,” he said. “This contributed to an overall 11 percent reduction in our total greenhouse gas emissions footprint for municipal operations.”

Members of the City Council took the report as good news and a sign of progress. Even so, they said that additional growth, including the opening of Fort Missoula Regional Park and city ownership of Mountain Water, will pose challenges as Missoula moves toward zero emissions.

“It's great news to see an 11 percent reduction, but we've got a big hurdle to overcome with the next (benchmark), especially with some of the big things coming online,” said Ward 1 council member Bryan von Lossberg. “It's going to be a challenge to hit these reduction goals.”

Jones agreed but said it wasn't an insurmountable challenge.

“I think it's a great opportunity to go back and update our Energy Conservation and Climate Action Plan in the context of now owning Mountain Water,” said Jones. “There's a lot opportunity for conservation there. It's been squarely on my radar because it will add to the city's footprint significantly.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at