Few of us will spend the next couple of 85-degree days thinking about boilers and saving money on our heating bills. But it’s time to kick off another season of energy tours sponsored by AERO, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization, and the Townsend School District, which has taken a number of innovative steps toward saving money and making its building more efficient.

The centerpiece of Townsend’s effort is a biomass boiler — the district replaced its old boiler a few years ago through the Department of Natural Resources and Conservation’s Fuels for Schools program. AERO energy program manager Sarah Lesnar said the tour will also feature the school’s wind turbine (acquired through a Wind for Schools grant), which is connected to power the lights at the football field, as well as a grid-tier solar array to capture energy from the sun and a number of other upgrades and retrofits throughout the building. Motion sensors in the school mean the lights are only on in certain areas when they’re needed.

“It’s really incredible what the Townsend school has done,” Lesnar said, and we agree. It’s encouraging to see smaller schools taking progressive, energy-saving steps, and it’s also a positive to see AERO recognizing the efforts and raising awareness of what is possible in the arena of energy savings and conservation. Lesnar said Townsend officials were tireless in their pursuit of various sources of grant funding to allow the district to implement some of the ambitious projects.

In addition to touring the Townsend school, Thursday’s event will include a seminar on grants, loans and tax credits that can help make energy efficiency projects more affordable. Dealers and installers of various renewable energy projects will be on hand to discuss specific jobs.

Similar AERO tours are planned later this year in Red Lodge, Philipsburg (both in September) and Great Falls (October). Those events will feature projects as diverse as a wastewater treatment plant, a commercial brewery, a church and several homes, all of which have taken steps toward using more renewable energy. The tours are funded in part by the Universal Systems Benefits program we all pay into on our NorthWestern Energy bills, along with the Montana Renewable Energy Assocation and the Department of Environmental Quality.

It’s true that renewables aren’t yet in a position to handle the country’s entire energy demand. But it’s also true that fossil fuels won’t last forever, and publicizing and promoting renewables makes good sense in the long run. Townsend’s schools have more resources for the classroom because of their energy savings. That should be a goal for all of us — whether that be a business, public agency or family.

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