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Solar Energy Demonstrations Helping to Green Up Montana Communities

Ten more Montana communities are generating their own 'green' electricity from the sun this year, thanks to NorthWestern Energy's Sun4Communities project.

Sun4Communities is a demonstration project that selected ten Montana communities to receive a free solar electric system to help generate their own electricity from the sun. In doing so, the communities save money on energy costs, help protect the environment, and provide an educational opportunity for residents.

Sun4Communities is an expansion of NorthWestern Energy's popular Sun4Schools project, which installed solar electric systems on 27 middle and high schools in Montana between 1999 and 2003. Sun4Communities draws on the strengths and popularity of that project, but adds city- and county-owned buildings, such as local government, law enforcement buildings, courthouses and libraries to the eligible types of buildings.

Communities that received systems in 2004 are:

Boulder County Courthouse Annex

Chester Public Library

Choteau Law Enforcement Building

Deer Lodge High School Ag Building

Dillon City Hall

Great Falls County Courthouse Annex

Harlowton Public Library

Havre City Hall

Missoula City Hall

Philipsburg County Courthouse

Each participating community received a two-kilowatt solar electric system at no cost. The systems provide a portion of the building's electricity needs by converting energy from the sun into electricity. Any excess electricity produced by the system is fed into the utility grid through a net metering agreement, which essentially allows the building's meter to spin backward, reducing energy costs.

There are other, benefits, too. "These systems allow communities to use the sun to produce a portion of their electricity," explained Cathy Svejkovsky of the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT), which administers the project. "That means we're using a non-polluting, renewable energy resource, instead of fossil fuels, which is better for our environment. In fact, each of these systems will eliminate the emission of more than 3,500 pounds of carbon dioxide and nearly a half-pound of nitrogen oxides annually," Svejkovsky added.

The demonstration aspect of the project is equally important, says Svejkovsky. "These installations provide a great educational demonstration for the communities in which they're installed," she explained. "Residents of those communities can see a solar energy system at work, learn how they work, and better understand how important renewable energy is to our future. That helps build a stronger market for renewables in our state."

In addition to Sun4Communities, NCAT administers demonstration projects for senior meals facilities, fire stations, and residences. All four projects are funded by NorthWestern Energy's Universal Systems Benefits (USB) charge paid by the Company's electric customers.

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