Voices of 100%: Midway to Local Goal, Missoula Seeks New Clean Energy — Episode 110 of Local Energy Rules Podcast

Date: 12 Aug 2020 | posted in: Energy, Energy Self Reliant States | 0 Facebooktwitterredditmail

In this episode of our Voices of 100% series of the Local Energy Rules Podcast, host John Farrell speaks with two important leaders in Missoula, Montana’s efforts to reach 100% renewable energy: City Council President Bryan von Lossberg and Missoula County Commissioner Dave Strohmaier. They discuss the city and county’s joint efforts to achieve their goal, despite the resistance from stubborn utility companies and a lack of legislation.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below — including a transcript and summary of the conversation.

Dave Strohmaier: We’re not going to simply acquire renewable energy credits off of already created renewable energy. Just so that on paper, we can demonstrate that here kind of siloed in Missoula County, we’ve achieved our a hundred percent clean electricity goal. No, what we’re about is making sure that we are filling this gap by newer renewables and that we are also in the process affecting some level of systemic change across the state of Montana.
John Farrell: In April, 2019, Missoula Montana became the state’s per city to adopt a 100% renewable energy goal. Now backed by an extensive clean energy options report. The city and County are working together to create a clean energy future for the community. In spite of challenging headwinds from federal and state governments, I’m joined by Missoula City Council President Bryan von Lossberg and County Commissioner, Dave Strohmeyer to investigate whether the city can succeed in its ambitious goal. I’m John Farrell, director of the energy democracy initiative at the Institute for local self reliance. And this is our special voices of 100 series focused on local leaders and their pursuit of 100% renewable energy. It’s all part of local energy rules, a biweekly podcast sharing powerful stories about local, renewable energy. Dave, I’d like to start with you. There are over 100 cities that have made 100% renewable energy commitments like Missoula, but they differ in terms of scope and timeline. Could you explain what Missoula and Missoula County have committed to? And by what date
Dave Strohmaier: We are looking at a goal of 100% clean electricity for the Missoula urban area by the year 2030 with an intermediate goal of 80% clean electricity by the year 2025. There’s not a moment to spare. There’s a lot of work to do. And here in Montana, at least with our regulated utility, about 60% of the energy we already receive is what we would consider renewable. And primarily that is coming from hydroprojects in the region, but we have admittedly a bit of a lighter lift than some places in the country might have in terms of achieving a hundred percent clean electricity goal, but nonetheless, 40% that we need to make up over the next 10 years is a lot of work, but it’s important work and it needs to be done.
John Farrell: Dave, I love that you just jumped right into my second question about some of this context here, which is fabulous. Bryan, I want to toss this to you though, in terms of, I read some of the press about the commitment that was made and it kind of explains already in there that about half of the state’s electricity currently comes from coal, but then in the more detailed electricity options report that was done by the city to look into the commitment, which I just want to applaud the city for having done it’s more in some ways than many cities have done it around this commitment. Like you said, that you sort of 60 of the way there, Bryan, does that make it feel easier? I guess it’s hard to say because you’re only working with Missoula, not with many of these other a hundred cities, but does it feel easier knowing that you already got that head start and does it lend itself to knowing some good first steps toward getting that last 40%?
Bryan von Lossberg: Yeah. This is one of those cases where there’s a really simple, quick answer for a politician and it’s no, when Dave, I’m going to reach over and slap Dave, when he mentioned the lighter lift. I know, I know we’re actually aligned on this it’s I mean, it’s great that we’re starting from that baseline. Don’t get me wrong, but that 40% gap is still substantial, it’s significant. And this is sort of the obligatory place where folks who know me, I used to work in the space business. I was a mechanical engineer and work the jet propulsion lab and spent a lot of time there on the Mars Pathfinder mission back in 1997 is when it landed. And I draw parallels all the time from the work in that arena, in terms of the challenges we face to do certain things that seemed impossible at the time. I think that 40% gap is still a huge gap. And in some ways it might mask the fact that we have that 60% baseline with the hydro-power resource predominantly maybe mask. The fact of just how hard it is still to get all the way there. But the simple answer is no, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel any easier, but I’m grateful for that, that position we’re starting from.
John Farrell: Your background is in this space program. Are you frequently tempted to describe getting to a hundred percent as a moonshot?
Bryan von Lossberg: I don’t, I don’t use the moon. That would be, there’s a friendly competition between folks that worked at like the jet propulsion lab and the NASA manned missions, so I always use my stories based on the unmanned missions at JPL, but it would be appropriate. I find great value in describing to people that I didn’t realize until later that my greatest accomplishment in life would be working to save Matt Damon’s life in a movie that would come out after the fact which Pathfinder played a role in, but it seems those are the stories I tend to use.
John Farrell: Dave, do you similarly have a background that gives you some perspective on getting to this goal that Missoula has.
Dave Strohmaier: Well, I’ve got a fairly eclectic background. I served in the same role that Bryan did a number of years back in the Missoula city council. I’ve been in the world of local government for a long time and have come to recognize and appreciate that much of what we need to accomplish on the ground at a grassroots level is in spite of what happens at the state or federal level. So there’s a bit of trying to shape our own destiny by ourselves. I do come out of background of natural resource management with the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management. So I’m fairly attuned to how our imprint on the land affects the broader world in which we live and our responsibility as stewards for this place.
Bryan von Lossberg: One thing I just wanted to throw in, I was so grateful, John, that you brought up the options report and I would encourage folks to take a look at it. I find that I go back to it about every month or every other month or so and review the description and the options and the opportunities available to us and want to give our recognition to Tom Platt was one of the primary authors of that report, who unfortunately passed away very prematurely a couple of years ago, but it’s a fantastic document for other communities, I think to look at as well around the different options that communities have available to them.
John Farrell: Yeah, we’ll definitely link to that on the show page as well. It’s been really interesting doing these interviews with many cities to find out the kinds of resources that they’re putting together. St. Louis, Missouri. I remember talking to the folks from there just a couple of months ago also did a very similar kind of report looking at the different strategies that they can employ and in a similar situation where they have that investor owned utility, that doesn’t necessarily share the same goal or the, or the same timeline with that in mind. Let’s, let’s jump back to the plan for Missoula. So you have this options report. As I mentioned, Missoula, like St. Louis, like many other cities is served by a utility company that doesn’t own. So I can’t tell them to do it. And they’re regulated at a state level. When I looked at what Northwestern Energy had in terms of their plans, it doesn’t seem like it would meet the city and county’s goal. What are some of the options in that electricity options report that can help get you to that goal, or at least make progress toward that goal?
Bryan von Lossberg: First off, it’s really important to acknowledge that our paths, the utilities paths, and the city and County, they don’t align. And this is one of those situations where it’s so important to work together is also simply to create the language around which we’ve talked about, the path that we’re on and where we’re headed, so that we understand the gaps. I think just understanding the gap or gaps is an important first step. And it’s surprising how difficult even just that step in the process and be that said, I think that there are a number of things in the options report that gives me hope and where I can see on the horizon, tangible opportunities in the near term, things like utility-scale renewables through a green tariff program, community-scale renewables, and then always energy efficiency. But at a farther reaching level, I think you have to mention community choice aggregation, and I mean, it’s municipalization, we are keenly aware and following what’s been happening in Utah with their community, renewable energy act think that there is a lot of opportunity there for us to look at and perhaps craft a Montana-specific approach that’s similar to that, but I keep coming back to one of the central issues in this challenge and is competition or the lack thereof and the options report.

One of the reasons I’m so grateful that Tom and others, Amy Cilimburg and others helped put this together is for me, it was one of the first times that we, as a community articulated as customers, our desire for what we wanted to see and linked to that, then in terms of the utility, responding to customer demand is this idea of will we ever be able to get there in the absence of true competition? And I think that’s where the idea of community choice aggregation really comes in, where that might be an opportunity. It requires state level legislation, but might indeed be one of our most efficient paths to introducing true competition into the equation.

Dave Strohmaier: And I would just add, let’s have no illusions to the contrary, this is a big undertaking. And my colleague is exactly right. That even if it’s a 40% gap, we’re filling, that’s a 40% gap of new renewables that we are wanting to create. We are not satisfied here and simply moving around chairs on the deck of the ship, so to speak that might be sinking just to make ourselves feel better. So we’re not going to simply acquire renewable energy credits off of already created renewable energy. Just so that on paper, we can demonstrate that that here kind of siloed in Missoula County, we’ve achieved our a hundred percent clean electricity goal. Know what we’re about is making sure that we are filling this gap by newer renewables and that we are also in the process affecting some level of systemic change across the state of Montana.

One of the reasons why I think we’re at the table with our regulated utility Northwestern Energy is because we are seeing a critical mass of communities who are expressing an interest in renewables, be that the city of Bozeman, the city of Helena, Missoula, Missoula County, and hopefully other communities in the future. And what, what this is going to take is community scale, utility scale, new renewables. As much as all of these other possibilities need to be explored and realized ranging from energy conservation to the whole raft of other possibilities identified in the options report. When it comes down to it, we have got to be looking at something much more bold. And I think that means community and, and utility scale, newer renewables.

John Farrell: When I met with advocates in Butte three years ago, we had a really, it was a really interesting opportunity for me to meet a lot of the advocacy community. So a lot of the folks that were doing nonprofit advocacy around clean energy, there was some mention of municipalization as a strategy about community choice aggregation. And I said, you know, they could have a municipalization campaign. They should just run it in multiple cities at the same time. And they could call it Fed Up with Northwestern, but then on the banner, they could just have a big F and a big U for fed up and then Northwestern. So I just wanted to offer that that’s still available. I don’t have any royalties on that. If you need to use that for a strategy.
Dave Strohmaier: Leave it to our friends in Butte, America to come up with such a bold approach. I’m sure that my colleague Bryan, on the line here can talk to community efforts of a municipalization sort of having been through a acquisition of a water company here in Missoula. I think we’re in agreement that all things being equal, if we can work with utility to figure out a path forward, that would be the path of least resistance, but certainly all options remain on the table at this point, because nine and a half years is not that far away to reach this goal.
Bryan von Lossberg: Yeah, I would, if you see me shaking a little bit, it’s because of my experience through the condemnation effort. And I don’t know if you’re familiar with Missoula’s history with that and I won’t go into a deep dive on it, but I lived that experience and am still living sort of the tail end of it, though we did acquire the water utility and had burned operating it now for a couple of years, but we’re, we’re watching those efforts in other communities. And it’s certainly on the table here. I think Dave makes a great point. We’ve spoken to this. We want to exhaust every opportunity to make progress in partnership with the utility. And that’s been a difficult conversation, honestly, to have, even with our partners and friends in the advocacy community, these are folks with whom we share tremendous overlap of values. And they’ve been so critical to getting us to the point with the clean electricity initiative, but there’s a lot of history and animosity to be honest and transparent working with, or at odds with the utility. That’s been challenging. I think Dave and I would both say, but I remain committed to exhausting all options with the utility and while simultaneously looking at our opportunities, not in partnership with the utility.
John Farrell: Yeah. It’s interesting Dave, that you mentioned that nine and a half years timeline, cause that’s about how long Boulder, Colorado has been in the process of municipalized since their first ballot initiative. So it’s, I think an interesting question about political tactics outcomes, where there’s no question that what Boulder has done really has driven a lot of Xcel Energy’s clean energy improvements in the state of Colorado, and yet the city itself still hasn’t reached that end point of owning the utility and being able to run it the way that it would like, which obviously is very important at the speed at which communities are hoping to move.
Dave Strohmaier: Absolutely. And this is along the lines of, I think, what Bryan alluded to and that I absolutely appreciate my friends in the advocacy community, pushing us as much as possible to work mitigating climate change as quickly as possible, but it would be a tragedy if we invested all of our energy in a strategy that might be perceived as, as a very aggressive strategy, but 10 years from now, because we are at loggerheads in the court system or with the utility outside of the court system, we have not made any progress. And we are just that much farther to reaching the critical stage of irreversible affects from climate change.
John Farrell: We’re going to take a short break. When we come back, I ask about the recent arrival of a cryptocurrency mining operation and its impact on the community’s goals, the role of equity in the plan for 100% and what advice Bryan and Dave have for other Montana cities. Hey, thanks for listening to local energy rules. If you’ve made it this far, you’re obviously a fan and we could use your help for just two minutes. As you’ve probably noticed, we don’t have any corporate sponsors or ads for any of our podcasts. The reason is that our mission at ILSR is to reinvigorate democracy by decentralizing economic power. Instead, we rely on you, our listeners, your donations, not only underwrite this podcast, but also help us produce all of the research and resources that we make available on our website and all of the technical assistance we provide to grassroots organizations every year ILSR, small staff helps hundreds of communities, challenge monopoly, power directly and rebuild their local economies. So please take a minute and go to ilsr.org and click on the donate button. And if making a donation, isn’t something you can do, please consider helping us. In other ways, you can help other folks find this podcast by telling them about it, or by giving it a review on iTunes, Stitcher, or wherever you get your podcasts. The more ratings from listeners like you, the more folks can find this podcast and ILSR’s other podcasts, community broadband bits and building local power. Thanks again for listening. Now back to the program.
John Farrell: I could ask and would be interested in talking for much longer about strategy? I was involved in the Minneapolis energy options campaign that had a municipalization thread to it back in 2013 here and could wax eloquent about the debates we had about whether this is good strategy or not. But I want to ask you a little bit more about this, a hundred percent goal in Missoula. I actually just had a quick aside, which I thought it was interesting to read about this cryptocurrency mining operation that significantly increasing electricity use. And I was curious if that’s having a particular impact on how you’ll reach your goal to have something like that. That’s really increasing electricity demand.
Dave Strohmaier: Yeah. I’ll speak to that a little bit. There have been some significant developments over the past couple of months since we’ve been in COVID-19 world for about four or five months now. It seems like either an eternity or a short period of time, depending on which day I look at the issue, but during this timeframe, the cryptocurrency mining operation in Missoula County has gone bankrupt. So absolutely it has been a concern of ours for a number of years. I see the energy usage around the globe related to cryptocurrency mining is frankly obscene. And many of these operations seem to be none other than a glorified Ponzi scheme of some sort to take advantage of communities and individuals in the process.

So we, our worry was when this operation established its business here was that on the face of it, it looked like “Oh, green industry establishing itself in Missoula County. That looks great.” But quickly as you pull the veneer away, you realize that this cryptocurrency mining operation was using about a third as much electricity as all of the residential customers in the entire County, which is crazy. So yeah, absolutely had they stayed the course and continue to increase their energy footprint. It could very well have setback, our ability to achieve our a hundred percent clean electricity goals, which is one reason why we as Missoula County took action to enact some emergency zoning that regulated this industry, such that any cryptocurrency mining operation that existed at the time of the adoption of the ordinance that wanted to increase their energy footprint, had to create new, renewable energy to fill that gap or any new cryptocurrency mining operation that wanted to come to Missoula County would similarly have to create new renewables for their operation. But for the time being, we’ve dodged the bullet a little bit. And that I think cryptocurrency mining at the scale that we’re talking is no longer happening in Missoula County.

John Farrell: I want to ask a little bit about a different facet of the a hundred percent goal as other cities have been trying to figure out to find their way along. There’s also been a lot of discussions about equity. We’ve talked to some folks from Providence, Rhode Island about their climate justice plan folks in St. Louis. One of the pastors that was involved in the advocacy effort, there was very focused on, uh, affordability. So some parts of this had been energy affordability for low income residents and showing that native American or black populations that have lived near polluting power plants have a chance to sort of disproportionately benefit, you know, in contrast to the way they’ve disproportionately been affected by the fossil fuel economy. Are there particular efforts in what Missoula and Missoula County are doing to make sure that it’s shift to 100% renewable electricity is equitable?
Bryan von Lossberg: Yeah, that’s a great question. And honestly, I think this is a question that keeps me up at night more so even than the, how do we bridge that 40% gap to be completely honest, we don’t have any concrete plans for how to address this right now. We’re looking at those other communities like the ones you mentioned. This is a case of recognizing that there’s a lot of good thinking happening across the country. It’s impossible for me to look at this issue around energy, divorced from the issue that we and virtually every other community where people want to live is having with affordable housing. We just passed a housing policy last year and established the housing trust fund, affordable housing trust fund just a few weeks ago. So that the two things are linked. We’re obviously having a lot of discussions and public engagement around racial justice and equity.

So I think there’s some obvious, basic things around not burdening disproportionately burdening folks in those populations. I also think there’s tremendous opportunity for participation in the solutions that we, we bring forward. What that looks like now, I will be honest and say is more aspirational than concrete, but I think it is critically important to recognize. And I’m glad we did in the resolution that this was a guiding principle, this issue of equity, and we will be true to that.

Dave Strohmaier: And I would add that as, as we are keenly aware of the importance of addressing both social equity and environmental justice simultaneously, we’ve been able to memorialize that commitment in our MOU with Northwestern Energy. So it’s not just something that Missoula and Missoula County have unilaterally committed ourselves to, but we thought it important to, to recognize that in, in the kind of founding document of the relationship that we have between us and the utility, which I think is not inconsequential.
Bryan von Lossberg: I think one thing that gives me some hope is anyone who has tracked the trajectory of the economic arguments around renewables over time has seen this fundamental shift where for far too long, there was the argument that while renewables are just too expensive, you know, sort of thing, and yeah, we can provide, but it’s going to come at this big premium. And especially as someone with an engineering degree and worked in the tech sector, those things change over time for a number of reasons. And we’ve seen a dramatic reduction in the cost of renewables over the years. And so I think the more, and this kind of gets back into a little bit of a link with the competition issue. If there’s truly a more competitive place where we’re assessing the opportunities from renewables to get us to our goal, we’re going to see cost benefits, not just the old sort of, “well, renewables are too expensive” argument, and if we can be successful there, I think it opens up opportunities for all of the communities and people that participate in solutions.
John Farrell: As far as I know, Missoula is the only Montana city that’s made at 100% commitment. What advice would you offer to other leaders in other cities, other counties around Montana, considering the pledge, or considering steps toward meeting it
Dave Strohmaier: As of this taping today, there are now not only the city of Missoula and Missoula County, but a couple other major Montana communities that have adopted a hundred percent clean electricity goal. And that would be Bozeman and Helena, Montana in terms of making the case to others. I think it’s a matter of the dominoes are beginning to turn here. And I think if we can demonstrate that what we’re attempting here has an eye towards social equity. So for instance, there are communities in the state of Montana that have for decades then dependent upon extractive fossil fuel industries. And it would be a huge disservice on our part to those individuals and those communities if we simply forged ahead in terms of trying to achieve a hundred percent clean electricity goal with insensitivity towards the real people who will be out of work or displaced in those industries because of our shift to renewables.

So demonstrating and taking concrete steps to at every point along the way, as we’re looking at developing newer renewables, new utility scale renewables to do so with an eye towards how do we make this transition to renewables without adversely affecting many people, who’ve come to depend upon the very industries that are causing climate change in the first place. That’s one aspect, but I think demonstrating that we can have a relationship with our utility that’s productive. That’s getting us to our goal. I think that will also be a strong motivator to some who might think that this is just a bunch of liberal Western Montana who are behind this, that don’t care a Whit about anything else other than ourselves.

Bryan von Lossberg: I know we’re running a little short I’ll, I’ll be quick. My first bit of advice is just simply join us to these other folks. I’m deeply grateful. As Dave mentioned, really strong leadership in Bozeman and Helena on this front, we have been in communication with those folks now for quite a while, and there’s some real relationships there, and those are powerful and grateful for those folks leadership. It ties back to this idea in the option’s report of customers banding together and, and coming together in a sizeable enough numbers to have a meaningful conversation with the utility about their products and what their customers want to see in terms of those products. And I think, I think we have to, for folks that live in Montana, another sort of perspective is look at what we’ve been experiencing in terms of climate change and where we’re headed with water and fire.

I mean, these are the two things I should probably add whiskey in there. You can’t mention whiskey with water without whiskey, but that fire and water, whether that’s, snowpack where that shows up in our streams, how it shows up stream flow and effect on our recreation opportunities and our public lands, these things are all connected. And these are things that Montanans across the state. This is a language that we speak across the state, so that the work we’re doing here helps address the challenges and the perils that we’re facing in these other areas that maybe haven’t been as clearly connected before. But I would come back to advice to those other folks. Let’s have a conversation we’re here, we’re interested. And again, join us.

Dave Strohmaier: Yeah. And I would just add that it continues as important as all of these different strategies are to engage our fellow communities across the state. I think we simultaneously need to continue to with passion and, and without a hesitation to address the science of climate change, that this is urgent as we engage our utility. I think what we’ve discovered is somewhat of a dichotomy in senses of urgency. And that I think we are coming from a place of urgency that recognizes that we have got to do everything that we can to keep below 1.5 degrees increase in temperature around the globe here. The sense of urgency that our friends at the utility have is that they are concerned. And it’s not necessarily without merit. They’re concerned about their urgency of meeting peak demand. And it’s a matter of how do we come together and have some sense of what possible solutions there might be to both challenges simultaneously. And that’s going to require new thinking. It’s going to require fresh sets of eyes, which we hope to bring to the table. And it’s going to require that we all recognize that we live on a small planet together, and we have got to work together if we’re going to achieve anything meaningful.
John Farrell: Well, Bryan and Dave, thank you so much for joining me to talk about Missoula’s commitment and how to get there. It’s a pleasure.
Dave Strohmaier: Thank you so much, John. We appreciate it.
Bryan von Lossberg: Yeah. Thanks John. Thank you.
John Farrell: Thank you so much for listening to this episode of our voices of 100% podcast series with Missoula city council, president Bryan von Lossberg and County commissioner Dave Strohmaier on the show page. Look for links to the city’s energy options report and a summary of the interview to learn about other cities pursuing 100% renewable energy. Check out over a dozen additional voices of 100% interviews on the local energy rules podcast, including leaders from Madison, Wisconsin, Cleveland, Ohio, or even a Bita Springs Louisiana check out this year, club’s ready for 100 campaign page to see more cities in their clean energy goals. Back on the website of the Institute for local self reliance, you can also find the entire list of 100% cities on our community power map and click through an interactive community power toolkit for stories on how cities have advanced toward their goal. Tune back into local energy rules every two weeks to hear more powerful stories of communities taking on concentrated power to transform the energy system until next time, keep your energy local. And thanks for listening.

Missoula’s Big Move

The city of Missoula has committed to 100% clean electricity by 2030, with an intermediary goal of 80% renewable electricity by 2025. Von Lossberg says that Missoula is already running on a baseline of about 60% renewable energy, mostly from hydroelectric generation, but filling that last gap will be difficult.

He likens Missoula’s commitment to his past work as a mechanical engineer on the Mars Pathfinder mission. He explains that both are challenges once thought impossible, but through consistent effort and cooperation, the city will reach 100%.

Much of what we need to accomplish on the ground, at a grassroots level, is in spite of what happens at the state or federal level. There’s a bit of trying to shape our own destiny by ourselves.

– Dave Strohmaier

Strohmaier turns toward his experience in local government — he once filled von Lossberg’s current position — and in natural resource management as a great advantage. Von Lossberg points to Missoula’s 100% Clean Electricity Options Report developed during the course of this initiative as setting up the city to succeed. Options laid out in the document help to close a gap between the needs of the community and the resources required to meet them, including community-scale renewable energy and continued efficiency gains to reduce the energy burden of Missoula residents.

The team in Missoula also looked outside of Montana for ways to reach the goal. One option presented in other states is community-choice aggregation, says von Lossberg. He calls the strategy “one of our most efficient paths to introducing true competition into the equation.” Introducing choice on the consumer side is a way to ensure that the energy industry offers competitive prices and advances toward Missoula’s 100% renewable energy goal.

We are not satisfied here in simply moving around chairs on the deck of the ship that might be sinking just to make ourselves feel better. So we’re not going to simply acquire renewable energy credits off of already created renewable energy… what we’re about is making sure that we are filling this gap by new renewables

– Dave Strohmaier

Efforts Grow Despite Slow Utility Monopoly

Strohmaier highlights the actions they are taking to work with Northwestern Energy and give the communities around Montana a say in renewable energy development and the future of their utilities.

Both Strohmaier and von Lossberg mention that partnering with the utility monopoly would be the quickest way to reach Missoula’s goal, but getting energy giants to accept investments into renewables is a slow, arduous process. Rather, community-minded, grassroots development is what will close the gap to 100% renewables.

When it comes down to it, we have got to be looking at something much more bold and that means community- and utility-scale, new renewables.

– Dave Strohmaier

Farrell brings up cryptocurrency mining’s growing energy burden in Missoula. As Strohmaier explains, measures were put in place to slow the growth of an increasingly costly industry and help Missoula reach its clean energy goal. Recently, most of the cryptocurrency mining has shut down around Missoula, due to the industry’s diminishing returns.

Inequities and the Path Forward

Drawing on the example of St. Louis, along with many other cities, Farrell asks about the efforts Missoula is taking to address past and present racial and economic disparities and energy injustices. Von Lossberg acknowledges the importance of addressing those problems and plans to learn from other communities. Strohmaier mentions the necessity of simultaneously addressing social equity and environmental justice and their efforts to push Northwestern Energy toward meaningful improvements.

It’s impossible for me to look at this issue around energy divorced from the issue that we, and virtually every other community where people want to live, is having with affordable housing.

– Bryan von Lossberg

Von Lossberg says it is important to realize how affordable renewable energy is becoming, thanks to technological advances in the industry. He points to the lowering barrier of entry as a sign that utilities will be willing to invest if they are pressed to, and that opening utilities to competition would greatly aid that effort.

Strohmaier explains the subtlety of addressing inequities during the process and not assuming that inequities will be addressed after they reach success. He says it “would be a huge disservice on our part to those individuals and those communities if we simply forged ahead, in terms of trying to achieve a hundred percent clean electricity goal,” and completely neglect “the real people who will be out of work or displaced in those industries because of our shift to renewables.”

To anyone that may be considering organizing to commit to 100% clean energy, von Lossberg has two words: “join us.” He says that cooperation with other communities in and outside of Montana has made the goal more attainable and grounded them in reality. He invites listeners to reach out to discuss options.

Lastly, Strohmaier mentions that it is necessary to continue addressing the science of climate change and push forward in clean energy initiatives. Cooperation is key, he says, to creating the lasting, urgent change necessary to avoid permanent damage from climate change and heal the gaps and tears created by generations of inequality.

It’s going to require that we all recognize that we live on a small planet together, and we have got to work together if we’re going to achieve anything meaningful.

– Dave Strohmaier

Episode Notes

See these resources for more behind the story:

For concrete examples of how cities can take action toward gaining more control over their clean energy future, explore ILSR’s Community Power Toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive Community Power Map.

This is the 23rd episode of our special  Voices of 100% series, and episode 110 of Local Energy Rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares powerful stories of successful local renewable energy and exposes the policy and practical barriers to its expansion.

This article originally posted at ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or sign up to get the Energy Democracy weekly update

Featured Photo Credit: Forrest Rowell via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)




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Drew Birschbach

Drew Birschbach was an Energy Democracy Intern working as a producer on the Local Energy Rules podcast and blog posts. Their studies include Professional Journalism with minors in Sustainability Studies, Information Technology and Computer Science at the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities.