Makenna Sellers

Let’s face it: power systems can be a complicated subject. The moving parts for electricity generation, transmission, and distribution are already more than the typical Montanan has time to think about in each given day.

Yet, with every out of whack weather event or increasingly longer wildfire season, we feel the collective motivation to make all the systems in our lives (power systems included) cleaner and more sustainable for the long term.

So if you care about cleaning up our power systems, this article is made for you. If you care about the electricity we use to power our lives, this article is for you. Beyond the benefits of cleaner air, cost savings, and resilience, there is another bright spot to cleaning up our power systems: good-paying local jobs. And the job market for cleaning up our power systems has a promising outlook.

A study conducted by the Interstate Renewable Energy Council (12th Annual National Solar Jobs Census) found that the solar industry employs more than twice that of the coal industry nationwide, and jobs in solar have doubled over the course of the last decade. To build an even stronger job market for renewable energy careers in Montana, it’s important for electricity users to know where they fit in.

What happened with renewables at the 2023 state legislature?

We saw a myriad of policy attempts to make renewable energy less accessible and more expensive in Montana, but many of the bill proposals never made it into law thanks to the Montana citizens and organizations who made their opposition clear to our elected officials. There are still some changes worth keeping in mind:

-        Local governments have less control over energy decisions, like making new buildings better poised for rooftop solar and EV charging station integration (HB 241).

-        Electric vehicle and plug-in hybrid owners in Montana will see higher costs when completing their vehicle registration, ranging from an additional $70 - $1,100 annually depending on the size and make of your vehicle (HB 55).

-        Solar installer and other skilled trades professions will have an updated state tax credit available for investing in employees’ advanced education and training (HB 245).

-        The Montana Public Service Commission, the state government agency with major influence over Montana’s energy future, now has newly redrawn districts that splits a number of cities. The five PSC Commissioners are elected by you, the Montana voters (SB 109).

 The 68th Montana State Legislative Session is in the rearview. The next session won’t begin until January 2025. Even so, state elected officials will continue to study key policy issues in the energy sector in the interim. The topics most likely to be covered will be regional energy resource adequacy and keeping the lights on. Clean and distributed power like rooftop solar, battery storage, and wind must be part of the resource adequacy equation.

What’s happening with renewables at the national level?

This topic is worthy of an entirely separate article! For the renewable energy watchlist, here are some of the clean energy investments at the national level that we are tracking.

-        For homeowners and commercial business owners, now is a great time to go solar. You can get a federal tax credit for up to 30% of the cost of their solar system. This percentage incrementally decreases after the year 2032. This is called the ITC, the investment tax credit.

-        For ag producers and rural small businesses in eligible areas, grants for solar, geothermal, efficiency, and other renewable energy upgrades have been expanded through the Rural Energy for America Program. Grants can now cover 50% of project costs up to $1 million.

-        The Montana Department of Environmental Quality will be administering federally directed funds for rebate programs related to home efficiency and electrification, likely to begin early 2024.

-        Schools can apply for funding to help pay for zero-emissions buses, solar, and cleaner energy upgrades through programs like Renew America’s Schools.

-        Rural electric cooperatives now have access to competitive grants and loans for efficiency improvements, new clean energy generation, and purchasing-power to boost the clean energy transition serving rural areas through the Empowering Rural America program.

What can we do to stay informed? 

There has never been a better time to make the shift toward cleaner, reliable, and resilient energy. Are you looking for help to make this shift for your home, business, school, or another part of your life? Here’s how. Become a member and donate to Montana Renewable Energy Association, the hub for renewable energy information and action in Montana.

We make the renewable energy shift easy with step-by-step guides; a list of solar installers and energy professionals doing this work in Montana; and outreach and education events serving all corners of the state. Keep an eye out for Montana Renewable Energy Association’s events in Missoula like the Renewable Roadshow this summer, and the Missoula Climate & Clean Energy Expo with Climate Smart Missoula this fall (September 23, Caras Park).

Learn more at:

Makenna Sellers is the Executive Director for Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA), a nonprofit dedicated to expanding the use of renewable energy to conserve natural resources, create jobs, and increase community independence and resilience. Climate Smart Missoula brings this Climate Connections column to you two Fridays of every month. Learn more about our work and sign up for our e-newsletter at 

Missoula Climate Stories: Live Climate Storytelling

May 30 from 6:00-8:00 p.m, Missoula Public Library, Cooper Room

Change begins with ordinary people and the stories they tell about the future.

Join Families for a Livable Climate, All Nations Health Center, Missoula County, and Climate Smart Missoula for a night of live storytelling, connection, and resilience. Reception and live music by Britt Arnesen to follow.

Climate Table Talks: Share your experience to shape Missoula's future

June 14, noon or 5:30pm, UCC Missoula

Concerned about climate impacts in our community? Join Common Good Missoula, the City of Missoula, and local climate organizations to learn more about Missoula’s ongoing growth policy, development code and zoning update process. Then share your own experiences of climate in Missoula to help inform critical land use decisions as our community evolves. 

Through this facilitated, engaging “table talks” format, you’ll have the chance to share your personal story and hear from neighbors. All are welcome. Childcare will be provided.

Two session options on Wednesday, June 14: 12pm - 1pm or 5:30pm - 6:30pm at 405 University Avenue