Sustainable Missoula: Solutions to complex challenges are within reach
Like many people, we are thinking a lot about safety and security this week.
The gun violence in Buffalo, Uvalde, and now Tulsa, were horrific events, and like you, everyone at our organization is so sorry for the devastating pain and loss these families and their communities are experiencing. June 3 was National Gun Violence Awareness Day. To show support for all of the families impacted by gun violence, we wore orange as part of the Wear Orange Weekend (June 3-5).
It’s definitely not our area of expertise but gun violence prevention seems complex, but however difficult, we would hope that everyone with influence and power would be doing everything possible, and using all the tools at their disposal, to prevent it.
Unfortunately, while many people in power are doing what they can, there doesn’t seem to be the overwhelming spirit of cooperation to ensure our communities are safe and secure. It’s an extremely frustrating situation, and it also seems similar in effect to the gridlock facing common sense action to secure climate safety.
Like the failure to address gun violence effectively, the ongoing failure to act on climate disruption leaves families more stressed and more vulnerable. Without bold action to curb greenhouse gas emissions, we will face a much more uncertain future where unpredictability and insecurity will grow.
This is not hyperbole. Families across the West have lost loved ones, their homes, and entire neighborhoods to wildfires. Heat and extreme weather have also killed people, and devastated livelihoods. Without bold action across all sectors, these impacts will get worse, and erode our security on many fronts. (Read the Montana Climate Assessment and the Climate Change and Human Health in Montana reports for details.)
Thoughts and prayers are never enough when terror or disaster strikes, we need actual plans that steer us toward long term security. And when considering the work to keep our climate in the safe zone, how can we think about security without sustainability?
While addressing all aspects of the climate crisis may be complex, the main problem is simple: fossil fuel emissions.
In Montana, one of the largest fossil fuel emitters is NorthWestern Energy, the energy monopoly that most Montanans rely on for power. Given the huge impact of energy emissions on our changing climate and the company’s ability to choose how they produce energy, NorthWestern Energy has a unique responsibility, and opportunity, to help mitigate severe climate risks, and help protect all of our families.
Unfortunately, NorthWestern is currently peddling a “plan” that claims the company will achieve “net zero by 2050.” But, don’t judge the book by its cover. Despite the wind turbines on the front and the back of the plan, it actually calls for building methane gas plants (a.k.a. “natural” gas plants) through 2035, continues coal operations through 2040 or later, and disregards wind or solar in its list of solutions. Given Montana’s renewables potential, this is truly startling:
According to the 2021 Montana Wind Jobs report from Renewables Northwest, “Montana ranked 48th out of the 50 states for the number of jobs in wind energy production, despite being 5th in the nation for land-based wind potential…North Dakota has twenty times more jobs in wind energy, compared to Montana.” North Dakota has 1,764 wind jobs compared to Montana’s 86.
Looking at data from the National Solar Jobs Census and U.S. Energy and Employment Report, Montana ranks 25th in the nation for solar potential, and yet, as of 2020, we ranked 49th in total solar jobs, with only around 300 in the state. While markets in other states are growing, Montana is idling with a large amount of untapped potential. Without investment and support, Montanans will be left behind as this booming industry offers quality careers in neighboring states in our region and across the nation.
Of course, NorthWestern Energy’s employees show up daily to answer our service calls and attend carefully to safety. We are very grateful for them. But NorthWestern’s leadership is currently going the wrong direction with their plans for producing energy for Montana, leading us down a path that will contribute to more climate disruption and insecurity.
Right now, we’re collecting signatures on a letter to their Board of Directors and corporate heads directly, asking them to do the following:
Provide all customers with 100% clean electricity by 2030 in line with 100% clean electricity commitments of Missoula, Helena, and Bozeman.
Immediately prioritize big investments in proven renewable energy resources such as solar and wind, with storage. Increase their commitment to energy conservation. Cancel their plans for new fossil-fuel infrastructure.
Pay $2.5 million to low-income and Tribal energy assistance programs that a state district court ruled was required for not complying with Montana’s Community Renewable Energy Program.
A future where Montana is a leader in renewable energy with thousands of new jobs (land leases and local tax dollars for rural communities), seeing big decreases in pollution, along with cheaper energy bills for families, is possible. (For a great analysis of this potential, check out the Vibrant Clean Energy study commissioned by 350 Montana.)
We need to speak up for the future we want.
Sign on to our letter to NorthWestern’s Board of Directors and corporate leadership asking them to take concrete steps toward a truly secure energy future.
We all work hard to provide security and safety for our families, and all of our leaders should too.
Winona Bateman is the Director of Families for a Livable Climate