Missoula-based company bets on solar panels as the future of renewable energy grows


The Garden City plumbing and heating system, designed and installed by Satic Solar of Missoula, consists of three solar panels, each consisting of 30 panels. In total, the 90 panels in the system produce approximately 30 kilowatt hours of electricity. (Courtesy photo)

As the city and county of Missoula take steps to achieve 100% clean electricity over the next decade, members of the private sector have set their own goals and are ready to invest in reducing carbon emissions.

From Stockman Bank with its rooftop garden and energy efficient design, to Mountain Line and its shift to electric buses, the examples in Missoula are becoming easier to find as the new energy future grows.

Earlier this year, Garden City Plumbing and Heating joined in the effort and on Tuesday – a sunny day in Missoula – the company’s facility was producing its own electricity.

“We have just completed the installation of a 90-panel solar system and a back-up power system in our building,” said David Didier. “It really gives us the ability, no matter what is going on with the network, to be able to be up and running, to be nurtured and to serve our community.”

As Didier recounts, the company experienced a few power outages at key times, effectively stopping the operation. As a result, he began to explore options for producing emergency power.

The traditional gasoline generator was the first option, Didier said, although its infrequent use, fuel requirements, engine maintenance and other issues make it less palpable in the long run.

“With this big building, you would be in front of a pretty serious generator,” Didier said. “We decided instead to focus on energy efficiency. Even when we don’t need back-up power, we are now using the sun to use energy to mitigate the traditional electricity we use from the grid.

Getting electricity from the grid is something the City and County of Missoula is looking to do less of, and when they have to, they want it to come from renewable sources. According to NorthWestern Energy, about 60% of the electricity that serves Missoula comes from renewable sources, mainly hydropower.

Replacing the remaining 40%, which comes from fossil fuels, will take time, and the City and County of Missoula, as well as the cities of Bozeman and Helena, are taking steps in this direction. Last month, they signed a contract with a consultant in Salt Lake City to help them, in partnership with NorthWestern Energy, create what could become Montana’s first green tariff.

This month, Missoula County also adopted its first energy-efficient building policy and it may explore solar power to power some of its facilities in the future, including the Missoula County Detention Center.

“By default, especially for a lot of people who don’t read on solar these days, there are a lot of preconceptions about it, that don’t give a damn,” Didier said. “With all the tax credits out there, it certainly helps financially. Ours is one of the most complex solar systems in Montana, outside of some government facilities. “

Inverters installed with the new Garden City solar panel.

The Garden City system, designed and installed by Satic Sun of Missoula, includes three solar panels, each consisting of 30 panels. In total, the 90 panels in the system produce approximately 30 kilowatt hours of electricity.

The system also includes a military grade inverter and provides 50 kWh of backup power using smart lithium batteries, replacing the need for any gasoline generator. It is estimated that it will save $ 600 on the company’s energy bill. This equates to a gain of 10 years and the system is guaranteed for 25 years.

Like Garden City, other private companies in Missoula have taken steps in recent years to reduce their energy use and determine where that energy comes from. Mountain Line is replacing its fleet of diesel buses with electric buses, reducing carbon production by around 100,000 tonnes.

The new downtown Stockman Bank building was also designed with efficiency in mind. It features a rooftop garden, solar and efficient glass, rainwater harvesting, and low flow water devices. Together, this results in about 75% less power than a comparable building.

On a larger scale, KettleHouse Brewing and the Missoula Electric Cooperative teamed up in 2018 to install 189 solar panels at the brewery’s production site in Bonner. A year later, Missoula County subscribed to 37 of these solar panels, which means it will receive about 20% of the solar power plant’s electricity over the next 25 years.

Didler said that while some aspects of the private sector may not follow suit for environmental reasons, it may for economic reasons.

“The private sector that wouldn’t look at this for the environmental benefits and weigh as much as the dollars and cents and the business case, if they sit down and look at the business case, it’s a lot more convincing that their preconceptions might tell them, ”Didler said. “There are local lenders who will fund this system. If you look at the tax benefits in addition to power generation, that’s pretty compelling.

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