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Former Missoula council member hired to spearhead city’s clean electricity push

Former City Council member Bryan von Lossberg steps off Mountain Line’s new electric bus in this file photo. The council has hired von Lossberg to serve as a consultant on a short-term basis to help develop the city’s climate action program (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current file)

Calling him the right person for the job at the right time, members of the City Council on Wednesday placed their unanimous support behind former council member Bryan von Lossberg to head Missoula’s push to achieve 100% clean electricity.

Under the $40,000 contract, von Lossberg will serve as a short-term consultant to help develop the city’s fledgling climate action program. In his new capacity, he’ll also work with state partners, cities and NorthWestern Energy, which is exploring a green tariff with Missoula, Bozeman and Helena.

“Even if (the tariff) is successful, it won’t get our community to 100% clean electricity,” said Leigh Ratterman, the city’s climate action specialist. “We need to be exploring other options and other pathways. That’s the point of this contract, to help us get there.”

Von Lossberg, who served several terms on City Council – the last as council president – helped spearhead the city’s early efforts on the climate front. That included a joint resolution signed by the city and county to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035.

During his time with the city, he also established strong relationships on the energy front and is familiar with local initiatives, along with those adopted by other Montana cities that followed Missoula’s lead in seeking a new energy future.

“Since then, the situation has become increasingly dire, and unfortunately the state Legislature and the current (Gianforte) administration is failing to support a clean-energy transition in our state,” said Caitlin Piserchia with the Sierra Club Montana Chapter. “As the first city in Montana to make this commitment, I think Missoula has an opportunity to lead the way and follow through, and come up with creative strategies to achieve this goal.”

The City Council last year allotted $100,000 in this year’s fiscal budget for climate action programming. The city’s Climate Action Team used a portion of that funding to hire an energy program specialist, who started last month.

It will use the remaining funding to hire von Lossberg to help develop the program until the new specialist is fully up to speed. Energy issues are complex, council members said, and von Lossberg’s expertise is needed to help develop the city’s energy initiatives.

“When council last year in the budget added the additional $100,000 for climate action programming, the energy work was front of mind,” said council member Jordan Hess. “I can’t think of anyone who has a greater depth of knowledge with energy policy. The work is tedious, dense and technical, and it requires a depth of knowledge and history.”

At the forefront of the city’s climate efforts remains an ongoing push to develop a green tariff with NorthWestern Energy. In 2021, the cities of Missoula, Bozeman and Helena entered into an agreement with Energy Strategies to work with the utility to develop the program.

Ratterman said that effort is ongoing.

“We are feeling optimistic about the potential for that to go through,” she said. “We’re continuing conversations with NorthWestern and continuing negotiations. We’re bringing in community partners to get a broader opinion on the proposed renewable rate option (tariff). The point of this contract (with von Lossberg) is to help steward that existing effort.”