Solar, Energy Efficiency Revitalize Historic Borden’s Hotel

Return to:Rooftop Solar

Borden’s Hotel in downtown Whitehall, Montana has a colorful history as a saloon, hotel and dance hall dating back to 1913.  But in the decades following the death of original owner Hilda Borden in 1971, the Whitehall landmark has been mostly vacant and fallen into disrepair. Several business owners tried and failed to make a go of it, stymied in part by the high energy bills of an old, leaky building.

A 2009 fire proved to be the turning point for the old hotel.  That fire, which destroyed five neighboring buildings but spared Borden’s Hotel, prompted the nonprofit Jefferson Local Development Corporation (JLDC) to purchase the building with the goal of revitalizing downtown Whitehall. With the help of federal and state historic preservation tax credits, JLDC undertook a major renovation of Borden’s Hotel while preserving its historic charm.  The ground floor of the building now houses several offices, including MSU Extension, while the upstairs features nine loft-style apartments, two of which are used as short-term vacation rentals in the spirit of the old hotel.

Solar array on the roof of Borden's Hotel, with ballasts visible between rows of solar panels
Solar array on the roof of Borden's Hotel, with ballasts visible between rows of solar panels. The array is not visible from the ground per a requirement of the National Register of Historic Places.

The renovation included numerous energy efficiency improvements, including upgraded insulation and more efficient mechanical systems. It also included a 12 kilowatt solar array on the roof, installed by Sundance Solar Systems. Henry Dykema, owner of Sundance Solar Systems, reports that since the building was listed on the National Register of Historic Places, there was a requirement that the solar panels not be visible from the ground.  This requirement, plus obstructions on the roof, led Sundance Solar Systems to use a ballasted racking system rather than the more typical attached racking system. Ballasted racking systems use weights to hold the solar panels down rather than attaching them directly to the roof (see photo).

The renovation of Borden’s Hotel was selected as the Outstanding Local Renovation Project for 2015 by the Montana Historical Society.  As for the solar array, Henry Dykema reports that it is performing well.  “The system was estimated to produce about 1,200 kilowatt-hours per month,” he says, “but it was out-performing that the last time I stopped by.”

Quick Stats

  • Capacity (kW): 12.24
  • Owner: Jefferson Local Development Corporation
  • Location: 103 W Legion Avenue, Whitehall MT
  • Incentives: Rural Energy for America (REAP) grant, NorthWestern Energy USB incentive, federal tax credit
  • Installer: Sundance Solar Systems, Sacry Electric (Whitehall)
  • Equipment Used: 48 Trina Solar 255W modules, Fronius 11.4 string inverter
  • Utility Service Territory: NorthWestern Energy