Both the Archie Bray Foundation and the Lewis & Clark Library made great strides in going solar in recent months.
In November, the Bray’s solar system of 84 solar modules on its new Education and Research Facility went online.
Also this fall, the Lewis & Clark Library installed solar panels at its branch libraries in Augusta and Lincoln, joining the Helena branch in going solar.
Both the Bray and the library solar projects are part of these institutions’ green energy initiatives.
Archie Bray Foundation
The $51,478 cost of the Bray’s new system was funded by a NorthWestern Energy incentive, said resident artist director Steven Young Lee.
He believes the investment is worth it.
“We expect these buildings to be here a long, long time ... 50 years,” he said. “It will limit the cost of electricity over the lifetime of the building.”
It’s also ”environmentally conscious,” he said. “It’s important to us to minimize our impact as an organization.”
Lee expects the solar panels will pay for themselves within 16 to 20 years, depending on the cost of electricity.
While the Bray’s major goal for the new building was to improve the quality of the education program and its students’ learning environment, the Bray also sought to minimize the cost of its operation.
The new building allows the Bray more earned income by expanding its course schedule.
“(Student) feedback has been overwhelmingly positive,” he said.
The Bray’s 24.36 kW solar system went online Nov. 22, said operations director Brad Robinson.
As of Feb. 9, it had saved 803.49 Kg of carbon dioxide, which contributes to global warming, from going into the environment.
According to an EPA emissions calculator, this is equivalent to the CO2 released by burning 879 pounds of coal.
Although the panels had been covered with snow all but 48 days during those months, they still generated 1.14 MWh of energy in that time, said Robinson.
The Bray’s energy innovations go back nearly a century. In 1931 when Archie Bray Sr. became manager of what was then the Western Clay Manufacturing Co., he had the boilers and kilns switched over from burning coal to natural gas, according to a press release.
The Bray’s recent green energy efforts began in 2007, when the Bray updated its lighting to LED fixtures, increased building insulation, improved the energy efficiency of its kilns and installed meters to track gas usage.
Lewis & Clark Library
In October, the Lewis & Clark Library branches in Augusta and Lincoln joined the Helena branch in going solar.
Part of the library’s green energy initiatives, the new 20-panel solar installations at each library were paid for through fundraising and savings from the main branch’s solar array installation earlier in 2017, said Lewis & Clark Library Director John Finn.
“The Augusta roof is completely full of panels, but the Lincoln roof still has enough room for us to accommodate more panels if we ever wanted to increase the energy production to cover 100 percent of that branch's energy needs.”
The panels at both the Augusta and Lincoln branches cost a total of just under $30,000, he said.
The solar panel systems will provide not only clean renewable energy, but also dramatic annual savings.
“In Lincoln, we, anticipate the panels will save us 80 percent annually,” Flynn said, “and at Augusta we are hoping for 50 percent annually.”
These panels follow on the heels of the Helena branch installing a system that is just under 50 kW on its new roof in early 2017, said Finn.
“Overall, we expect the system will save us -- on this building -- 15 percent of our power costs per year,” said Finn.
“Based on current electricity rates and going online in April 2017, we project that we saved just over $5,000 in 2017,” said Finn. “A full year has not yet been completed to get actual annual figures."
“In 2017 we generated just over 50 MWh of energy,” he wrote in an email. “In January of this year, we have generated just over 600 KWh of electricity.”
This was despite the library’s solar panels being snow-covered part of the time.
The solar project began in 2015 when the Sleeping Giant Citizens Council approached the library about being a demonstration project on the benefits of public solar energy, said Finn.
Through the council, the 2015 Helena Sun Run raised more than $12,000 toward the solar project.
NorthWestern Energy gave an estimated $90,000 in funds to complete the project, and the Treacy Foundation also contributed funds.
No public funds were spent on the project, said Finn.
In 2017, the library reduced its carbon dioxide, or CO2 emissions, by 25 tons, said Finn.
This is equivalent to the carbon produced by burning 24,814 pounds of coal, according to an EPA greenhouse gas calculator.
Helena was just 4 years old when some enterprising citizens pushed wheelbarrows door to door collecting books to start Helena’s first library.
This January, the panels reduced carbon emissions 300 Kg, Finn said.
Visitors to the Helena branch can track the solar panels in action by checking the educational kiosk in the entryway, showing in real-time what kind of energy savings and carbon reduction the solar array is providing.
This will also be a feature on the Bray installation.
Solar Montana installed the systems at both the Bray and the branch libraries.