Department of Energy helps Missoula hone in on carbon-cutting goals

Chase Jones, the city’s energy conservation coordinator (right), and members of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, discuss a program funded by the U.S. Department of Energy to help cities like Missoula find ways to cut energy use, curb emissions and slow climate change. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Technical support offered by the U.S. Department of Energy and several other organizations could help the city of Missoula achieve the goals of its climate plan, becoming carbon neutral by its self-imposed deadline of 2025.

To get there, however, the city will need to reduce the energy consumed by several municipal buildings, such as City Hall and the Missoula Art Museum, and consider a future investment in renewable resources and potential offsets.

Getting there would save local taxpayers money in the long-term and position the city as a leader in fighting climate change, even as Washington looks the other way.

“Our ultimate goal is to be energy positive, not just neutral,” said Chase Jones, the city’s energy conservation coordinator. “Like our Energy and Climate Action Plan – and one of the reasons for this work – is to lead by example.”

On Wednesday, several consultants with the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance provided members of the City Council with a look into a new program that will enable city leaders to benchmark municipal energy consumption on a detailed level.

Funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, Missoula is one of just three cities to receive the technical support. Along with Eugene, Oregon, and Providence, Rhode Island, Missoula was selected in part for its commitment to slow climate change, reduce energy consumption and cut carbon emissions.

All three efforts have broad local support.

“Local action is where they (DOE) are really seeing an impact globally,” said Sharon Grant, a member of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. “We want to help the people dedicated to energy management develop an internal, strategic process to track and measure the performance of goals on a long-term trajectory.”

The city last year cut its greenhouse gas emissions 11 percent over a baseline inventory conducted in 2008. The city’s Energy Conservation and Climate Action Plan, released in 2013, had sought a 10 percent reduction by 2015.

Achieving the plan’s first benchmark represented a milestone for the city, which has implemented a number of measures in recent years to shave emissions. But the next benchmark could be tougher to achieve. It calls for a 30 percent reduction from 2008 levels by the end of this year, with carbon neutrality looming by 2025.

To get there, new software unveiled Wednesday will enable the city the city track its energy use month by month going back to 2008 – and in each municipal building. That, Grant said, will help the city make money-wise decisions as it moves toward its goals and considers where to make future upgrades.

“This helps you prioritize which buildings you’ll see the greatest opportunities,” said Grant. “We see energy conservation measures as the logical first step and the most important initial investment you can make before you start to move on to renewables, and before you purchase offsets. We’d like to see you do it in such a way that brings a return back to the city.”

The new analysis already shows Missoula’s energy hogs, with nearly two-thirds of municipal consumption going to Splash, Currents and the wastewater treatment plant.

But the DOE’s strategic assistance only applies to buildings, Grant said. In that category, City Hall, two fire stations and the Missoula Art Museum rank among the city’s largest energy consumers.

“The financing and funding piece is a big part of this and something City Council wrestles with,” Jones said. “But the more data driven, strategic information we can apply, it sets us up for opportunities to receive those grants. It builds on itself and brings in monetary resources.”

Contact reporter Martin Kidston at info@missoulacurrent.com