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Sustainability group releases greenhouse gas report

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Above are some key data points that emerged from the Greenhouse Gas Inventory conducted by SNO. The emissions data is expressed as a CO2 equivalent and the vehicle miles traveled are within the boundary defined by the study. GRAPHIC BY ME BROWN

Nonprofit SNO looks to reduce Big Sky’s carbon footprint

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – A local sustainability nonprofit recently completed a study looking at the impacts of greenhouse gas emissions in the area.

The Big Sky Sustainability Network Organization in September finished its Community Greenhouse Gas Inventory, a report that quantifies emissions in Big Sky and creates a baseline of data to then come up with solutions to reduce its carbon footprint. 

The report was conducted by SNO board member Patrick Miller, who started in 2020 and analyzed data provided by NorthWestern Energy from 2018 and 2019. 

“You really can’t attack a problem until you know what the problem is, and you can quantify it,” said Miller, an energy consultant. 

SNO is a nonprofit organization that began in 2020, born out of a series of community conversations in 2019 regarding sustainability in Big Sky. The goal, says SNO Community Engagement Director Lizzie Peyton, is simple: engage the Big Sky community in identifying and solving local sustainability issues.

Peyton has been encouraging community members to sign up for SNO’s stewardship program and emphasizing that the group aims to be a resource for the whole community.

With the greenhouse gas study in hand, SNO now has a good baseline of data that will inform projects and plans moving forward, according to Miller. 

On the left is a breakdown of emissions in Big Sky based on 2018 data and on the right is the breakdown based on 2019 data. GRAPHS COURTESY OF BIG SKY SNO

From 2018 to 2019, the report identified a 5.5 percent increase in total emissions in Big Sky. The largest contributors to Big Sky emissions are “residential energy,” which is divided into electricity and liquid propane gas, and “transportation and mobile sources” including gasoline and diesel.

A major takeaway, according to the report, is that electricity is one of Big Sky’s largest and fastest growing sources of emissions. In 2019, emissions from electricity accounted for 39 percent of Big Sky’s greenhouse gas emissions, and electricity from NorthWestern Energy is the fastest growing emissions source at nearly 9 percent from 2018 to 2019.

The study reports that electricity refers to an indirect emission based on energy generated by NorthWestern Energy and purchased by Big Sky residents. NorthWestern provides energy across the state of Montana and, in addition to traditional sources of energy including coal and natural gas, also utilizes clean energy sources such as wind, hydroelectric facilities and solar.

“About 60 percent of the energy that we provide our customers is clean energy,” said NorthWestern Energy Manager of Sustainability John Bushnell.

The company utilizes energy conservation programs in place like its E+ Green program, which offers customers the chance to pay an extra $1.25 a month to help reduce their carbon footprint by adding 100 kilowatt-hours of renewable benefits of wind, solar and biomass.

“We’re working closely with our communities to have a program that works for us and works for them,” Bushnell said.

Marne Hayes, treasurer of SNO, says that the report has bigger implications than just painting a static picture of Big Sky’s footprint or emissions.

“Tied up in that big picture term ‘climate change’ are many things, but for Big Sky, those are projects focused on energy, transportation and carbon emissions from both of these sources,” she wrote in an email to EBS.

The next step for SNO will be drafting a Climate Action Plan that a subcommittee is currently working on which will tentatively be announced in the next six months.

“We all think that it’s going to need community involvement,” Miller said. “We’ve got to bring enthusiastic people who really believe in this idea into our group to work on the plan so I think it’s going to grow.”

In addition to drafting the Climate Action Plan, SNO aims to establish an emission reduction target with an ultimate goal of net zero emissions for Big Sky. Peyton noted that while emissions will always exist in Big Sky to some degree, the community can reduce them and look into purchasing carbon offset credits, similar to the program at Big Sky Resort.

“It’s not like it’s going to happen overnight,” Peyton said. “It’s a practice you have to wake up every day and make an intentional change, and so that’s why we’re here … We want to be a resource.”

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