First LEED Platinum building in Montana now using 100% solar

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The “Home on the Range” building was renovated in 2003 to become Montana’s first LEED Platinum certified building, and is home to organizations that are committed to energy conservation (Northern Plains Resource Council, Western Organization of Resource Councils, and Western Native Voice). During the renovation, Sundance Solar Systems installed a 10kW solar electric system that has been able to offset 1/3 of the building’s energy use over the last ten years. Northern Plains Resource Council decided take the next step to offset 100% of the building’s energy use by pursuing additional solar project for the property.

“The 10th anniversary of the commissioning of the building was coming up, and we wanted to do something big to celebrate,” says Kate French, Board Chair of Northern Plains Resource Council. “This building was something that we felt could showcase sustainable building techniques, and would be good for the community.”

Northern Plains decided the next step they would take with the grounds would be to add enough solar to power the entire building. They began planning a fundraiser to fund the project, and after a year’s worth of work they had their new array. “It was incredible. So many people stepped up to help, including Tim Crawford who was one of our largest donors.”

The challenge was where to put the new system. The grounds around the building include important features like xeriscape areas and native plants and gardens, which they didn’t want to disturb. “The issue was that the original 10kW array took up all the available space on the roof, so we had to come up with other options,” says Orion Thornton of OnSite Energy, the solar business responsible for the addition.

Home on the Range building, with carport array in background

Ultimately, with input from NPRC and the original architect, OnSite Energy designed a custom cantilevered carport that works within the limited amount of space to meet NPRC’s goals of energy production while also blending well with the property lay out. In addition to hosting the new 25kW array, the carport also provides shade during the summer and protection from snow during the winter.

“It’s just so clean,” says French. “We were blown away at how meticulous the design team was in making it aesthetically pleasing. It’s the first thing people see when they come onto the property, so it really sets the tone for who you’re going to be talking to and what they care about.”

French says they rarely turn the lights on, and over the past 10 years have saved more than $80,000 in gas and electric energy use.

Quick Stats

  • Capacity (kW): 24.75
  • Owner: Northern Plains Resource Council in conjunction with Tim Crawford of Pheasant Farms
  • Location: Billings, MT
  • Incentives: Private donations
  • Installer: OnSite Energy, Inc., Ace Electric
  • Equipment Used: 75 Suniva 330 Watt Solar Panels, 4 SMA 5.0 US Inverters