Missoula unveils changes to new clean energy agreements

The Missoula City Council unveiled a revised agreement between Missoula County and the city of Bozeman to create a new clean energy project that organizers say should allow for more flexibility as it moves forward.

The council’s Climate, Environmental Protection and Parks Committee unanimously supported the revised agreement, which allocated an additional $40,000 to the project. The maximum budget set by the city is $115,000.

“This green energy program is one of our major efforts to meet our electricity goals, but it is also one of many,” said city climate and sustainability specialist Evora Glenn. “The reason this is one of our main efforts is because it is one of the most impactful ways we can deliver development at a utility scale.”

The agreement between the three entities could ultimately establish a 50-MW renewable energy project through NorthWestern Energy, the state’s primary utility provider. The 50 MW project could power about 15,000 homes.

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There is no set plan for the project yet, but Glenn said the project will likely be solar or wind powered with an energy storage component. In December, the parties agreed a term sheet setting out the program’s design and responsibilities.

The next step will be to submit community agreements with NorthWestern Energy. The three local governments and the utility company will then ask the Public Utilities Commission for approval.

The Public Service Commission (PSC) oversees companies that provide public services but have no competitors.

Glenn said Montana hasn’t had an interlocal green energy program before. Other states have implemented this process, and councilors expressed optimism that NorthWestern Energy is sympathetic to the process.

“In partnership with NorthWestern, the PSC should take a closer look at this,” Ward 3 Councilor Gwen Jones said.

No cooperation was established between the parties and PSC. If an agreement between all groups is approved, program details and energy guidelines will be developed before the project begins.

The amended contract will provide more flexibility in hiring consultants and speed up the process to the final date, Glenn said. Bozeman and Missoula County must also approve the agreement.

There is no timetable for completing the project, but Glenn reminded council that the city’s goal by 2030 will be to use only green energy. The final approval of the agreement as part of the agenda will take place on May 13.

Griffen Smith is a local government reporter for the Missoulian.

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