Voices Of 100%: Renewable Cities Coalition Grows in Western Montana


Originally published at ILSR.org

For this episode of our 100% voices series of the Podcast on local energy rules, host John Farrell speaks with Helena’s sustainability coordinator Patrick Judge and Citizens Conservation Commission member Mark Juedeman. Judge and Juedeman have supported Helena as the city commits to 100% renewable energy. In making her engagement, Helena joined Missoula and Bozeman, building a coalition of command in western Montana.

Listen to the full episode and explore more resources below, including a transcript and conversation summary.

Episode transcript


Leads to sustainability through identity

Patrick Judge and Mark Juedeman were both drawn to work on sustainability and climate change because of their backgrounds.

Judge, Helena Sustainability Coordinator, was born and raised in Helena. His love for natural settings and his professional interest in the physical sciences lead him to make Helena a cleaner and more sustainable place. Additionally, Judge’s experience on climate change issues has enabled him to identify environmental threats to tourism and agriculture.

Clearly… global climate change is the most pressing issue we face today on the environmental front, and beyond, with serious threats to the quality of life in Montana: along with wildfires and their consequences. implications for public health; and drought threatening our largest agricultural industries. and tourism. – Patrick Judge

Likewise, Mark Juedeman’s identity as a native of Montana and his training in geology led him to work on sustainable development and play his role in the Citizens Conservation Commission. From being one of the first to adopt solar power in Louisiana to his experience installing wind power at his ranch in Montana, Jeudeman’s commitment to Helena’s 100% renewable energy transition is evident. in his lived experiences.

Create lasting change despite resistance

Together, Juedeman and Judge have helped Helena progress towards her sustainability goals. 30% of the city’s electricity supply already comes from hydro, wind and solar energy. By 2030, the town of Helena plans to run 100% clean electricity throughout the community.

that of Hélène clean electricity resolution was born from a Climate Change Action Plan 2009, which was inspired by over 40 community recommendations on how to switch Helena to clean energy. More importantly, the goal of 100% clean electricity was revitalized by a 2017 Citizen Conservation Council led by Juedeman.

These sustainability efforts, however, have met with major backlash from local and state authorities. Over the past five years, Helena has struggled within the limits of:

  • Reduction of tax credits for conservation and renewable energy
  • Additional charges on electric vehicles
  • Attacks against net metering and the 50 kilowatt cap on distributed solar power
  • Pre-emption bills to limit the imposition of carbon taxes by local governments

Faced with resistance from above, members of the Helena community responded with grassroots organization to broaden community support. The city is also working on its own energy efficiency and has also opted for a clean energy property rated loan program, which offers zero interest loans for energy efficiency improvements or the installation of solar energy.

We are facing enormous headwinds from the legislature and the executive. And that’s kind of our motivation to do whatever we can at the city level. – Mark Juedeman

Community solar legislation would help make the transition a fairer one, Juedeman says, as there is an affordability crisis in Montana and many cannot afford to own their own homes. Since there is no state legislation allowing it, Helena has piloted some solar installation projects on affordable housing complexes.

Prudent partnership with Northwestern Energy

Another challenge in meeting Helena’s renewable energy targets? The regional monopoly power company: Northwestern Energy. Northwestern Energy has a 220-megawatt coal-fired power plant that the company plans to operate until 2042, Judge says, as well as plans to build a new 175-megawatt gas plant in the future. It will be difficult for Helena to meet her targets if the utility provides them with electricity from these generation sources.

On the bright side, Northwestern Energy hosted a stakeholder meeting in 2019 with leaders from cities like Helena, Missoula and Bozeman to discuss how the utility can serve their communities, Judge said.

We’ve had a lot of conversations with the utility and, you know, we’re optimistic that we can make some progress. – Patrick Judge

The group was interested in replicating Utah’s 2019 Community Renewable Energy Act. However, Northwestern Energy did not believe that a withdrawal model was feasible in Montana. After stakeholder input, Northwestern Energy is moving forward with an opt-in green tariff program.

These communities already represent about a quarter of Northwestern, MT’s customer base, and these communities are also some of the most vibrant in the state… We believe this is a powerful and strong collective voice that the utility needs to pay attention to. – Mark Juedeman

Episode Notes

Check out these resources to learn more about the story:

For real-life examples of how cities can take action to better control their clean energy future, explore the Community power toolkit.

Explore local and state policies and programs that help advance clean energy goals across the country, using ILSR’s interactive tools Community Power Map.


This is the 31st episode of our special voice of 100%series, and episode 137 of Local energy rules, an ILSR podcast with Energy Democracy Director John Farrell, which shares landmark stories of successful local renewables and exposes political and practical obstacles to its expansion.

Local Energy Rules is produced by John Farrell and Maria McCoy of the ILSR. Audio engineering by Drew Birschbach.

This article originally published on Ilsr.org. For timely updates, follow John Farrell on Twitter, our energy work on Facebook, or register to get the Energy Democracy weekly update.

Featured Photo Credit: Florida Fish and Wildlife via flickr (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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