Martin Kidston

(Missoula Current) Members of the Energy and Climate Team could take steps to research and present a carbon offset and sequestration program to the City Council in a push to help Missoula reach its goals around carbon neutrality by 2025.

While the effort would be a “heavy lift,” as one member put it, getting it done may be needed for the city to achieve a goal it adopted 10 years ago.

“It’s a challenge,” said team member Scott McNall. “The city is not going to reach its goals of carbon neutrality, not because of a lack of trying, but because of the resources the city has, as well as the regulatory environment in which our city government has to operate.”

The committee last week considered a number of areas in which it could focus its attention, and carbon offsets emerged as the preferred choice. But the road ahead could be long, they admitted, and they’ll need to enlist the help of local experts as they pursue any recommendations.

“It’s a huge problem and anyone who took it on would have to team up with people at the university,” said McNall. “That’s where the local talent is in terms of understanding this process and actually executing it. It would be a long-range effort.”

An offset is a reduction in greenhouse gas emissions in one place that can be used to compensate for emissions somewhere else. Offsets can include a range of options like solar energy, reforestation or growing urban forests.

They can also include energy efficiency, as is the case with the Footprint Fund managed by Climate Smart Missoula. A business or individual looking to offset their own carbon footprint can invest into the fund to create efficiency in low-income homes across the region.

“There’s a lot we can do to shrink our climate footprint, but we’re still connected to energy and transportation systems that make it nearly impossible to get to zero on our own,” said Climate Smart. “Offsets can help you get closer to a zero energy footprint.”

Climate Smart launched its Footprint Fund in 2020 and focused its first project on Cornerstone Apartments – a 12-unit housing complex for very-low income households. As the cost of the project climbed, backers began looking for ways to cut, and efficiency was an easy place to do it.

But in partnership with Clearwater Credit Union, the Footprint Fund help cover the cost of high-efficiency heat pumps in exchange for credits from the greenhouse gas reductions, estimated at almost 900 metric tons.

“They’re working to drive down their emissions, yet at this time, carbon neutrality also requires purchasing carbon offsets to reach their goal,” said Amy Cilimburg, the executive director of Climate Smart. “Although many carbon offsets are available for purchase, Clearwater wanted to keep their money in our community, building climate resilience right here.”

Amy Cilimburg. (Missoula Current file)

Amy Cilimburg. (Missoula Current file)
It’s a similar vision expressed by members of the Energy and Climate Team as they dip their toe into the world of carbon offsets to help the city achieve its goals around carbon neutrality. It adopted the goal in 2013 and set 2025 as the target date, which is rapidly approaching.

Three years ago, the city contracted McKinstry to complete an energy audit on municipal operations ranging from city buildings to parking garages. McKinstry offered as many as 150 recommendations to the city, and last year’s budget included funding to tackle several of them.

But members of the Energy and Climate Team believe more is needed to achieve the 2025 goal, and carbon offset and sequestration could help the city get there.

“There’s been some discussions about purchasing carbon offsets to get the city to a climate neutral goal,” said McNall. “There’s been a suggestion that if they’re going to purchase carbon offsets, they do it locally, which is a complicated matter. It would be a valuable thing to distill.”

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Gallery Credit: Ashley Warren

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