Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Missoula County joined the city on Tuesday in extending their contract with a consultant that's working with NorthWestern Energy to develop a renewable rate option, or green tariff.

Bozeman is also a partner in the project and those involved believe the effort – launched nearly two years ago – is beginning to show progress, though the road ahead is still long.

The City of Missoula has approved the $45,000 cost of extending the contract.

“We are currently in negotiations with NorthWestern Energy on finalizing the term sheet for the renewable rate option,” said Caroline Bean, the county's climate resilience coordinator. “The term sheet is a framework for how we'll move forward with providing a clean, renewable energy product.”

The partners entered into an agreement with Energy Strategies of Salt Lake City in February 2021 to pursue what could become Montana's first green tariff.

The contract was set to expire this August but has since been amended for an additional six months. Bean said it will give partners more time to work toward the end goal of developing the tariff.

“This does not substantively change the scope of work. It simply changes the end date of the agreement to give us more time with our work with Energy Strategies and NorthWestern Energy on our renewable rate option and other 100% clean electricity work.”

Both the city and county of Missoula, along with the city of Bozeman, have adopted goals to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2030. The renewable rate option is seen as key in achieving those goals, officials have said.

However, if a tariff is adopted, individual households will still have a choice to opt in, Bean said.

“If Missoula County and other governments chose to participate, it means residents in Missoula County who are NorthWestern customers would have the option to participate,” she said. “It's not mandatory. It would be on a household-by-household basis.”

If the term sheet is created, it will go before local governments for review and approval, as well as the Montana Public Service Commission.

NorthWestern and its partners would then develop a request for proposals to net any companies interested in developing a renewable energy generating product. Bean said it would mostly likely be a wind source, but that hasn't been determined.

“After we get the response to the RFPs, we'd translate the cost of building the project into the impact on someone's bill,” Bean said. “Once we saw those numbers of what it meant for Missoula County residents to enroll, we'd make another decision on whether we participate or not.”