Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Looking to make progress on its quest to achieve carbon neutrality, the Missoula City Council this week approved an energy contract to begin implementing several projects intended to shave energy use and improve efficiency.

The Energy Performance Master Contract enables the city's consultant, McKinstry Essention LLC, to begin a number of simple improvements that come with guaranteed savings and a construction payback over time.

“What that enables you to do is use a state sanctioned delivery method to create a financial tool out of construction and energy savings,” said Reid Prison with McKinstry. “We've identified energy conservation projects that have dollar savings associated with them. They provide guaranteed cost and guaranteed savings.”

The Phase 1 project targets a number of city facilities including two fire stations, both aquatic facilities, parking garages and the Missoula Art Museum.

The master contract runs nearly 60 pages long and provides a detailed breakdown of current inefficiencies and they're related costs to the city. It also includes the cost of fixing those inefficiencies and estimated savings moving forward.

“There is the potential for this to be a phased approach,” said Leigh Ratterman, the city's climate action specialist. “In Phase 1, we looked at projects that fell within that 20-year payback that we can easily finance.”

All identified facilities include LED lighting and basic steps like fixing window and door leaks, and roofing. Other projects, such as Currents and Splash – the city's two aquatic centers – measures include optimized piping for heating systems, variable speed drives for pumping, and chlorine generation.

The fire department will see new digital system controls to ensure they're accessible from remote locations for greater energy savings. Station 2 will also get a new roof and Station 5 will see roof repairs.

The city's parking garages will all be equipped with time-sensitive LED lighting and the art museum will have its own control system modernized.

“They have to maintain their accreditation to have archived art,” said Prison. “It's important their system works well, is reliable and has data-logging capabilities to prove they're meeting those standards.”

Those behind the project estimate that Phase 1 will cut the city's carbon footprint by 584 metric tons per year. That equates to 479 acres of trees or 74 average American homes.

“There's a significant greenhouse gas emissions savings,” said Ratterman. “There's a lot of environmental work that will help meet our goal of carbon neutrality in city operations by 2035.”

The master contract marks progress in the city's energy and climate goals. It contracted with McKinstry back in 2020 to conduct an energy performance audit. Recommendations were gleaned from that audit, and the simple measures were added to Phase 1.

Some departments will fund the initial work from their own budgets while larger projects that carry larger costs will be brought to City Council for future funding.

“It's great to see this going forward,” said council member Gwen Jones. “We've had these goals as a city for a long time and it's hard to get the wheels turning. But it feels like we're starting to get the wheels turning, and that's great.”