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Trifecta: Missoula, Bozeman, Helena team up in push for green tariff

Electric Car Charging Missoula
Diana Maneta
Mountain Line Electric Bus
Posted at 1:05 PM, Feb 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-10 15:05:51-05

MISSOULA — With parallel goals of addressing the climate crisis and reducing carbon emissions, the city and county of Missoula, along with the cities of Bozeman and Helena, have formally adopted a joint agreement to work with NorthWestern Energy in developing a green tariff.

The agreement, now approved by all four governments, authorizes them to hire a national consultant with expertise in designing utility rates and green tariffs.

The consultant will collaborate with NorthWestern in developing the tariff – a move intended to help Missoula, Bozeman and Helena move closer to their adopted goals of achieving 100% clean electricity by 2030.

“Our hope is for a collaborative process with NorthWestern,” said Diana Maneta, the energy conservation and sustainability coordinator for Missoula County. “They have expressed a lot of openness in working with the consultant we bring on board.”

In anticipation of the agreement between governments, partners in the effort solicited proposals from national consultants and received 11 bids. After review, they selected Energy Strategies in Salt Lake City to aid in the process.

Under the agreement, Energy Strategies will bring its expertise to the table and work with NorthWestern Energy to develop the tariff.

“Green tariffs came about several years ago as a result of large corporations that had clean electricity goals,” Maneta said. “In some states that had deregulated electricity markets, they could contract directly with a solar or wind farm and buy directly. But in states with regulated monopoly utilities, that wasn’t an option.”

Diana Maneta
Diana Maneta, center, addresses the joint committee on the urgency of addressing climate change. She, along with Chase Jones, left, and Amy Cilimburg, right, helped write Missoula’s 100 Percent Clean Energy Options Report.

In those states with regulated utilities, customers seeking to purchase clean energy through a tariff, or special rate, had to work directly with the utilities. But in Montana, there is no green tariff, and most customers receive power from NorthWestern, a monopoly utility regulated by the Public Service Commission.

In 2019, the PSC directed NorthWestern to initiate a stakeholder process to initiate a green tariff. That order came about as part of a settlement agreement between the power company and several other groups, including Walmart, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, and the Montana Consumer Council.

Maneta said the stakeholder process is underway, and Missoula County, along with the three Montana cities, have a seat at the table. They’ll now be joined by Energy Strategies.

“We have all identified the green tariff as one of the most promising near-term opportunities to get new, large scale renewable energy built in Montana to help achieve our 100% clean electricity goal,” Maneta said. “It will not on its own achieve our goal, but it does have the potential to be a big step in the right direction.”

A green tariff allows customers of regulated utilities to buy power from newly developed renewable energy sources through a special rate, or tariff.

Mountain Line Electric Bus
City Council President Bryan von Lossberg steps off one of Mountain Line’s new electric buses in 2019.

If approved, power customers in Montana would have an option of signing up and paying the special rate for clean electricity. That’s of great interest to the four participating governments, which are working toward a cleaner future.

It also has the interest of local electricity consumers.

“It represents the best effort available at this time to advance the goal of 100% clean electricity by 2030,” said Milltown resident Gary Matson. “I hope this effort forms the foundation of a future that broadens the participation of other Montana local governments and by NorthWestern in working toward a statewide goal of 100% clean electricity.”

Both the city and the county of Missoula have completed an inventory of greenhouse gas emissions to set a baseline measurement as they work to reduce carbon emissions.

On the city side, the study found that municipal government emitted more than 8,600 metric tons of CO2 equivalents in 2009. The county’s study found that its operations emitted more than 7,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent in 2016.

The city and county together adopted their 100% clean electricity goals in April 2019. Helena and Bozeman soon followed.

“Bozeman’s ability to meet its stated goals is dependent upon a rapid transition to renewable energy sources by the utility. Together, our communities represent about a quarter of NorthWestern’s customers, and this partnership is our best chance to exert the collective influence that will be required to facilitate this transition.”