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Lodge near Busby Brings Together
Learning, Spirit and Renewable Energy 

Learning, spirit and renewable energy have merged on the Northern Cheyenne Reservation near Busby in south central Montana.

The Learning and Spirit Lodge, built by the Sisters of St. Francis and the Northern Cheyenne Reservation community, was blessed and opened on July 29, 2001.

"It’s is a dream come true for the associates, friends and Sisters of St. Francis on the Crow and Northern Cheyenne Reservations," said Sister Marya Grathwohl.

"The Northern Cheyenne and Crow women who shaped the vision of Learning and Spirit Lodge stated in our goals that the building should be 'good for Mother Earth'," Sister Marya said. She and other Lodge founders wanted to demonstrate appropriate technology that local families can incorporate into their homes. 

The Lodge gets its electricity from a
wind turbine and solar electricity panels. It also features an on-demand tankless water heater, passive solar design, cellulose insulation (R-19 in the walls and R-44 in the ceiling), efficient fluorescent lighting, a graywater system, kitchen composting, a greenhouse and water catchment system, a composting toilet, a deck made of recycled material and "loving care of two-leggeds."

"Through Learning and Spirit Lodge we commit ourselves to manifesting our participation with Mother Earth in the cycles of creation," said Sister Marya. "The wind and solar energy system enables us to fulfill these goals and live these values."

An Indiana farmer and businessman with an interest in renewable energy, donated the wind and solar systems. Sister Marya described their benefactor as "a longtime supporter of the ministries of our congregation and the Sisters of St. Francis." The order is based in Oldenburg, Ind.

For help on site, the Sisters turned to Dan O'Neil of
West Wind Energy, Inc., in Columbus, who designed and installed the systems in July and August 2001 with the help of Francis Limpy, a retired Northern Cheyenne supervisor of electricians. Limpy continues to be the on-site adviser for the system.

The system satisfies the electrical power needs of the large gathering room, offices, bedrooms, and two bathrooms. The furnace blower, kitchen, and laundry are on the Big Horn County Electric Cooperative grid.

The Lodge, overlooking the Rosebud Creek Valley, sits on a sand and clay hill created by an inland sea 90 millions years ago during the middle Cretaceous period.

It is surrounded by the pastures and hayfields of Northern Cheyenne ranchers. "Our buildings are protected from the north by the hill," said Sister Marya.We almost always have at least a breeze."

The Lodge uses a Southwest Windpower "Whisper H-40" rated at 900 watts peak. The four solar panels are Photowatt PW-1000's rated at 900 watts each. The inverter is a Trace SW 4824 (4800 continuous watts) at 24 volts DC. The solar controller is a trace C40.The wind turbine sits atop a 60-foot tower. A bank of batteries stores power from the two systems.

"We got the windmill, and solar panels, and batteries, and the unexpected bonus of music," said Sister Rachel in the Prayer Lodge Autumn 2001 newsletter. "It sounds like the wind blowing through the pine trees in our valley. Before, we huffed and puffed about the wind; the day the mill went operational, we had no wind and no sunshine – a true rarity – so we huffed and puffed towards it."

Photos courtesy 
Sister Marya Grathwohl.


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