Advocates: Lack of marketing sunk Missoula’s renewable energy credit program

July 6, 2014 by  
Filed under Green Energy News

The Green Power Missoula program never got enough energy to fully launch.

Roughly five years ago, the city of Missoula launched Green Power Missoula on the recommendation of members of the Greenhouse Gas and Energy Conservation Team. The idea was people who wanted to offset their carbon emissions could purchase “green tags,” or renewable energy certificates, and 20 percent of the money would go toward the city’s green energy projects.

At the time, supporters argued other cities had reaped substantial rewards, such as a $28,000 solar package for a school in Ashland, Oregon. In recent interviews, though, a couple of people who pushed the idea forward said the program has faded, and it never attracted many investors.

“It’s never been a huge number,” said Ben Schmidt, who is on the current Energy and Climate Team of the city of Missoula. “Part of it was our marketing budget was zero dollars.”

Brian Kerns, also a member of the Energy and Climate Team, said at one point, he might have been the only person who was contributing to the program on a regular basis. The most recent report he’s seen put just $200 or $300 in the account.

“It’s kind of a shame because I think it could have had some legs,” Kerns said.

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While this specific program didn’t gain momentum, the city is seeing successes in other sustainability initiatives, said Chase Jones, energy conservation coordinator for the city of Missoula. The city adopted a Conservation and Climate Action Plan in January 2013, and Jones is at work on implementation.

The city has started to comprehensively track its energy consumption using a program called Utility Trac Plus, Jones said. He said the city is compiling data for every electric and natural gas meter in municipal operations from 2010 to the present.

“We have wonderful goals in our plan, but we can’t really manage for improvement or success toward those goals if we don’t know where we are and if we don’t measure and track,” Jones said.

He named Park Place, the parking garage on Front Street, as another feather in the city’s conservation cap. At the time the parking garage opened, he said, it was the largest solar photovoltaic installation in the state, and it will power roughly 80 percent of the building’s energy needs.

“That’s a really great thing to be proud of and I think a huge model for the future of how the city is going to do buildings,” Jones said.

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The Green Power program sunk in a large part because it lacked a strong marketing campaign, according to Schmidt and Kerns.

It relied on volunteers and interns to get the word out that people could buy “renewable energy credits” for roughly $18.50 each to offset their emissions. Companies that produce green energy sell the credits, and the idea was the city of Missoula would benefit from a percentage.

Despite the team’s efforts, it never established a partnership with a larger institution, such as St. Patrick Hospital. At one point, the University of Montana made a substantial purchase, Kerns said; Schmidt said the Athletic Department appeared interested in a long-term partnership, but then UM and athletics “ran into a whole bunch of controversy that distracted them.”

In more recent years, the Climate Team has been focused on policy, Kerns said. The city’s website still describes the Green Power program, but it has mostly fallen by the wayside.

“Like anything else, without getting out in front of people – advertising does work – it tends to fade away from people’s consciousness,” Schmidt said.

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