Martin Kidston/Missoula Current

With its climate goals in place, the City of Missoula will consider funding a number of energy programs in its new budget including solar, building efficiency and LED lighting.

The $4.3 million budget request includes an estimated 16% increase in inflationary costs and a $1 million down payment. But in the end, the projects would be paid back within 20 years and bring the city closer to its carbon neutrality goals.

“Today we're at an exciting point of making some budget asks to actually implement some of the projects that have been recommended,” said Leigh Ratterman, the city's climate action specialist. “Each department has been really involved in the process of choosing the projects they'd like to move forward with under this contract. It's a department level scope, but we've bundled them all together in this one larger ask.”

The city in 2020 contracted McKinstry to complete an energy audit on municipal operations at several key facilities. The audit looked at nine city buildings, three parking garages, field lighting and more than two dozen parks.

The list of recommendations included around 150 items. The Fiscal Year '23 budget request covers items the city would like to tackle in Phase 1. The projects were selected for their environmental impacts, energy savings and other benefits.

“It does leave opportunities to include projects in the future,” said Ratterman. “We've identified the most pressing and necessary project that either have a quick pay-back period or are necessary to the function in helping us meet our goals at the city.”

The city's largest CO2 emitters include the water and wastewater facility, which represents 58% of all city emissions. Buildings rank second at 18% and the city's vehicle fleet is third at 12%. Other emitters include street lighting at 6%, employee commute at 5% and solid waste at around 1%.

The city adopted its goal to achieve carbon neutrality in 2016 and set 2025 as the deadline.

“2025 is coming up quickly and we're feeling the urgency to take some action to make some differences,” Ratterman said. “Some of these things really need to be done anyway. Now we have the opportunity to do them in a really energy-efficient way that helps meet our climate goals and finance them in a way that doesn't have a huge up-front cost.”

Gene Connell, manager of the city's wastewater treatment facility, and Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess, discussed the bacterial process used to treat wastewater. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)
Gene Connell, manager of the city's wastewater treatment facility, and Missoula City Council member Jordan Hess, discussed the bacterial process used to treat wastewater. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

The energy-performance contract between the city and McKinstry represents an economical way of achieving savings and cutting emissions, city officials said. McKinstry guarantees the energy savings for each particular project, and the city will use that savings to pay off the cost of the work.

McKinstry also does all the work.

“With traditional construction, we don't see guaranteed outcomes and the costs often change,” Ratterman said. “With an energy performance contract, the outcomes are guaranteed and we get the cost up front.”

Some requests submitted by the Energy and Conservation Team aren't funded in the current budget, including a $300,000 request to connect the city's Affordable Housing Trust Fund with the city's goals around energy efficiency.

Ratterman said the request was intended to establish a pilot program to give incentives to developers to include energy efficiency in affordable housing projects.

“It would create a mechanism for incentive funding for developers who are developing affordable housing but also could wrap in some energy efficiency,” Ratterman said. “It would create a pilot incentive program so we can understand what motivates developers and what that might be.”

While that request hasn't been funded, members of the City Council were generally pleased with an opportunity to begin funding efforts to shave the city's carbon emissions.

“It's pretty awesome to see how it's going to save money by becoming more energy efficient while ultimately paying for itself,” said council member Daniel Carlino.