By Amanda Eggert EBS Associate Editor
BOZEMAN – Given that President-elect Donald Trump has settled on several climate change skeptics sympathetic to the oil and gas industry for top cabinet positions, Montanans focused on clean energy and climate change have cause for concern.
But that frustration hasn’t deteriorated into despondent hand wringing in Bozeman. People are looking for ways to make a difference on these issues at a local level, as evidenced by a robust turnout for a Dec. 13 meeting about clean energy and climate change policy held at the Bozeman Public Library.
The meeting was attended by approximately 100 people and organized by Dave Dittloff, a Missoula-based representative of the National Wildlife Federation.
“People want to find a constructive place to put their efforts and promote climate change policy and clean energy policy,” said Dittloff, adding that he hopes to hold similar forums in Billings, Missoula, Great Falls and Helena.
Ditloff said a considerable amount of carbon reduction can occur at the city and state level and such efforts in Bozeman are laudable. In September, the city of Bozeman launched the Bozeman Solar Project near I-90 and 19th Street, designed to produce enough electricity to power approximately 54 homes. “If more cities [follow Bozeman’s lead], we could drive the carbon emissions down drastically,” he said.
Dittloff started the meeting by discussing some of Trump’s cabinet picks that concern him, like Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt for administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency and former Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson for secretary of state.
Ditloff then changed the tone of the meeting by pointing out that the market favors clean energy right now. “Economic trends are on our side,” he said. “[Solar energy] is cheaper than ever, wind is cheaper than ever, and coal is—relatively speaking—more expensive than ever.”
Presentations were given by representatives from a Missoula-based renewable energy nonprofit, the Montana Department of Environmental Quality, a Bozeman-based solar contractor, the city of Bozeman’s Sustainability Program, and a Montana state senator.
Laura Andersen with the DEQ’s Energy and Pollution Prevention bureau highlighted some renewable energy projects in the works at the state level including utility-scale wind development, a nascent effort to install solar panels on public buildings, and a potential electric vehicle charging corridor between Glacier and Yellowstone national parks.
Andrew Valainis, executive director of the Montana Renewable Energy Association, said several bills are in the works that would advance efforts related to net metering, a system that allows people who produce more energy than they use to add it to the power grid. The proposed bills would incentivize and protect investment in net metering.
JP Pomnichowski, who represents Bozeman in the Montana Senate, said the state legislative process is ripe for public participation and urged constituents to be vocal about bills they don’t support. “Silence implies consent,” she said, adding that laws that are passed in the state Legislature have a profound impact on Montanans’ daily lives.
“I really believe that your diligence at the [state] legislative level is important,” Pomnichowski told the crowd.