Billings West End Reservoir design

Atreides, LEDs, and LEED

December 2021

by Daniel J. Brooks, Business Advocacy Director

In preparation for the upcoming film Dune, I decided to read the 1965 novel the movie is based on. Giant sandworms. Ornithopters. Spice mélange, a narcotic from the desert planet Arrakis, drives the political and military conflict in the universe.  

Even if science fiction isn’t your cup of tea, Dune’s story relies on some very nonfiction topics: the economics of scarcity, the importance of sustainability, and ultimately the science of survival. Simple yet inescapable concepts that transcend time. A reminder that no matter when you exist on the timeline of humanity, society will be navigating the struggles of scarcity, sustainability, and survival.    

Efficiency and Sustainability 

Accordingly, the City of Billings is addressing those issues. One of the biggest projects the city is undertaking is the West End Reservoir, an infrastructure asset estimated to provide months of water availability to Billings after an emergency shutdown alerted the city to a major vulnerability. A 2011 oil leak in the Yellowstone River caused a temporary suspension in water intake from the city's sole source. Within less than half a day, the city was running out of water, prompting the public works director to call the fire department and inform them there wouldn’t be city water available to fight fires, let alone provide residents a basic necessity of life.  

While the city is working to ensure residents have access to the most important resource on Earth, it’s also finding efficiencies across the community. Upgrades at the water treatment facility and city parks will save over $115,000 in electricity requirements annually. In addition, energy-efficient LEDs now illuminate city facilities across town. Altogether, the energy efficiencies the city has implemented are saving over $600,000 annually in electricity expenses.  

In addition to providing water and cutting back on electricity usage, the city captures the methane gas produced by decomposing waste at the landfill. Starting in 2010, the partnership with Montana-Dakota Utilities was estimated to provide an income of $500,000 to the city annually. That number was up to $700,000 around 2018.  

LEED for Cities 

Considering everything the city has already done to be efficient and sustainable, it is well-positioned for a LEED for Cities certification. Generally associated with evaluating buildings for their construction and efficiencies, the U.S. Green Building Council that administers Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), created a new program specifically tailored to assist cities to advance quality of life through the sustainable planning of energy, water, waste, and transportation systems.  

In the U.S., 109 cities and communities have received LEED certification. This year, Billings was one of 15 cities worldwide selected for the LEED for Cities Local Government Leadership Program, which assists in pursuing LEED certification. With all the city has done regarding efficiency and sustainability, Billings stands a good chance to be the first LEED-certified city in Montana.  

Besides bragging rights and cost savings, another major benefit is talent attraction.  As the Great Resignation continues and workers discover they have more choice in where and how to live, work, and play, communities need to go to greater lengths to make themselves attractive. For millennials, sustainability is important, as indicated in a 2019 Fast Company survey showing three-quarters of respondents would take a pay cut to work for an environmentally responsible company. 

A LEED for Cities certification would put Billings on the map for scores of millennials who might otherwise pass us by. With competition for talent as tough as it’s ever been, highlighting Billings’ sustainability bona fides will be a boon for our business community.  

This is only the beginning...  

The city's Energy and Conservation Committee meets monthly on the second Monday to stay updated on the process.

Originally printed in the December 2021 issue of Simply Local Magazine

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