Missoula City Council returns to hybrid meetings; callers urge action on clean electricity

After meeting remotely for nearly two years, the Missoula City Council on Monday night gathered together in chambers to test a hybrid system that will kick in after next week’s break.

As it prepares to return to a new normal, the council heard pleas from two residents urging immediate action on the climate front.

Citing the war in Ukraine and what one described as a lack of action by NorthWestern Energy, the two speakers asked the council to double down on the city’s plans to pursue 100% clean electricity by 2030.

Both speakers identified themselves as members of the Western Montana Democratic Socialists of America, and one urged the city to pursue a takeover of the energy grid, not unlike the city’s pursuit of its drinking water system.

“I would like the mayor and City Council to look into public ownership of our energy grid in the same spirit Mayor Engen, with great fortitude and foresight, led us in a campaign to own our own water company,” said Sarah McClain. “If this is blocked legally, we need to campaign to change the law. NorthWestern Energy has shown no sign of beginning to step up the transition needed to come anywhere near the goals of the 100% clean electricity by 2030 plan.”

The city and county of Missoula together in 2019 adopted a resolution stating their intent to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2030. Both governments have taken steps in that direction, investing in new partnerships that included the county’s solar array atop the detention facility – one of the county’s largest energy consumers.

The city is exploring similar plans for the wastewater plant, and both have already conducted an inventory of their greenhouse gas emissions. The City Council this week will discuss the latest findings of its Greenhouse Gas Energy Report.

But with the Russian invasion of Ukraine and new calls from Congress to intensify the nation’s energy production, some believe it’s time to shift fully and completely to renewable sources. Mark Anderlick on Monday said now is the time for the City of Missoula to make a transition.

“I can’t think of any better reason than the war going on in Ukraine for us to pursue clean electricity and wean ourselves off fossil fuels,” he said. “I can’t say how much our security now, and also the well-being of our children, ourselves and our planet, are all at stake at this perilous moment. I would encourage you to pursue with all vigor 100% clean electricity.”

NorthWestern last week announced its plans to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2050, but also said it would continue its current pursuit of natural gas. Roughly 56% of the company’s energy is produced by carbon-free sources.