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Missoula County defends clean energy goals, slow shift to electric vehicles

Electric Car
Posted at 2:27 PM, Feb 25, 2022
and last updated 2022-02-25 16:27:28-05

MISSOULA — A letter citing concerns over the emissions created to develop alternative energy sources and electric vehicles drew a quick response from Missoula County this week, which said such emissions are far below those created by traditional energy and gasoline vehicles.

The city and the county are both moving to a greener power base and aim to achieve 100% clean electricity by 2035. But a letter, sent to the county by a local resident earlier this month, cited concerns over wind farms, solar panels, batteries and electric vehicles, and the greenhouse gasses emitted during their manufacture.

An array of new and emerging technologies will be needed if Missoula is to achieve its goals of 100% clean electricity and drastically reduce tailpipe emissions along the way, it has argued.

“We can assure you Missoula County has thoroughly considered the pros and cons of clean energy and electric vehicles and is not making snap decisions on these topics,” the county wrote in a response to the letter. “The fact is that these technologies have much lower emissions over their lifetime (including manufacturing, operation and disposal/recycling) than the fossil fuel alternatives.”

The county’s letter, written by Sustainability Programs Manager Dianna Maneta, noted the benefits of electric vehicles, which have advanced over the past two decades. Most electric vehicles now come with a minimum battery warranty of 8 years or 100,000 miles.

As a result, Maneta said, there’s now a market for used electric vehicles, which also cost less to operate per mile than vehicles with combustible engines. And their emissions are lower when all factors are considered.

“Our response back to the letter said there are real environmental impacts of those technologies, but they’re really dwarfed by the environmental impacts of the alternatives, which is fossil fuel and gasoline and diesel vehicles,” Maneta said this week. “It’s why the county has established a 100% clean electricity initiative.”

A carbon emissions inventory conducted by AmeriCorps on behalf of the county in 2017 found that county operations emitted around 7,000 metric tons of CO2 equivalent. County buildings, facilities and its fleet of vehicles contributed around 70% of that while employee commutes contributed 21%.

The city conducted a similar study in 2020 and found that its operations emitted around 18,500 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent each year. Nearly 60% of that came from its water and wastewater operations, 18% from its buildings and facilities and 12% from its fleet of vehicles.

Both are taking steps to reduce those emissions. Recently, the county installed Montana’s largest rooftop solar array on the detention center and the city plans a similar project at its wastewater plant. NorthWestern Energy has said that roughly 60% of the energy provided to Missoula comes from clean energy sources.

The city and county are pushing NorthWestern to ensure the remaining 40% is also derived from clean sources in the near future.

“We have talked with NorthWestern and Missoula Electric Co-op, and of course, they are both aware the vehicle market is shifting toward electric,” Maneta said. “Given that this shift won’t happen overnight, the utilities have the opportunity to plan for it and ensure there will be sufficient generation to meet electricity demand in the future.”