Missoula City Council voted against an amendment to remove funding for 100% clean energy projects from the city’s proposed budget Wednesday.
Ward 6 Councilor Sandra Vasecka sponsored the amendment. She told councilors in the Budget and Finance Committee that “we’re not quite there yet” when it comes to technology for clean energy and that it often needs gasoline or propane backups.
“And like a lot of the citizens said before, we need to look at our wants versus our needs,” Vasecka said. “This is a good program. I just don’t think we can financially support it right now.”
The amendment would have removed $100,000 in funding from the fiscal year budget dedicated to the clean energy initiatives. Vasecka intended to reallocate the funding to improve street maintenance in Missoula with a different amendment presented later in the meeting.
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Ward 5 Councilor John Contos was the only other councilor voting for the removal, with the majority voting against the amendment for the removal of funding 10-2.
Of the proposed $100,000 in the budget, $58,000 would go to a second phase of renewable energy feasibility work, $40,000 would go to marketing and recruitment work for a renewable rate option with NorthWestern Energy, and $2,000 would go to continued work on Electrify Missoula outreach. The renewable rate option, also known as the green tariff, was approved earlier this year and will allow customers to buy power from renewable energy options.
Ward 4 Councilor Amber Sherrill said the renewable rate option is one of the single largest things the city can do to reduce emissions.
“We need to do everything we can to reduce our emissions on a local level, on a state level, on a national level and an international level,” Sherrill said. “We are so far, far past time, that this is a very small piece of our budget to make sure that the citizens of our community sign up for the renewable rate option.”
Earlier Wednesday, Mayor Jordan Hess provided an update on the city’s future programs focused on addressing the climate in Missoula.
There is more federal money than ever before for climate-related initiatives after the passing of both the Inflation Reduction Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, Hess said. It will allow the city to further pursue climate initiatives.
In 2016, the city resolved to join the Zero Waste initiative to reduce 90% or more of the waste from going to landfills or incinerators by 2050. Currently as part of that, the city is working with Home ReSource through an Environmental Protection Agency grant that would enable a facility designed for hard-to-recycle materials. Hess mentioned those hard-to-recycle materials as including plastic bags and Styrofoam.
Also with Home ReSource, a hazardous waste drop-off will open early this fall. Hazardous household items include lead paint, pesticides, batteries and automotive fluids. Currently, the only opportunity to dispose of hazardous waste in Missoula is through a yearly event with the drop-off being a solution to preventing illegal dumping, according to Hess.
The city has also taken steps to speed up the composting process at the facility it acquired in 2017 with odor reduction and methane reduction projects in development.
Hess said one of the city’s biggest climate plans is through the transportation plan. A focus of the plan is to triple the number of non-single occupancy vehicle trips. Hess mentioned the $24.5 million in funding received in June for updates to downtown streets as an example of creating active and sustainable transportation options.
“These are massive-scale federal investments, but they dovetail nicely with some of the work around neighborhood traffic calming and creation of neighborhood greenways,” Hess said.
A new non-tax-funded position will also be added next year centered on Electrify Missoula, a collaborative initiative that aims to reduce methane gas reliance and increase electrification.
Hess said the position will help fill gaps in the city’s climate programs with the position assisting businesses and residents in transitioning to full electrification of their buildings.
“What we need to do from a climate standpoint is to electrify everything we can and to green our grid, and this work really supports that moving toward building electrification and transportation electrification,” he said.
The position would also help with the city in applying for additional grants. One of the biggest barriers currently with electrification is having capacity to identify expanded funding, according to Hess.
As smoke from fires hung in the Missoula Valley Wednesday, Hess said it made for a timely presentation as the city further discusses strategies to address climate change.
“The climate crisis is real and the impacts are real and they are worsening and they are human-caused,” Hess said. “And the solutions are challenging and, and evade us, but those are what we need to work toward.”