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With community support, Lewis and Clark Library goes solar

With community support, Lewis and Clark Library goes solar

Walking down S. Park Avenue in Helena, you might find yourself gazing onto the roof of the Lewis and Clark Library. Where before there may not have been much of a view, today there are rows upon rows of solar panels. Unlike most rooftop installations, the location of the Lewis and Clark Library affords passers-by a view of the 50kW solar array, completed this past March by Bozeman Green Build.

A unique opportunity presented itself when the Library began planning to replace the roof. “We were already planning on replacing the roof,” says John Finn, Library Director. “We were approached by Sleeping Giant Citizens Council (SGCC) who suggested we look into making the new roof ready for solar while we were at it.”

From there, a number of groups came together to begin working on the project, including the Library Foundation. A significant portion of the funding from this project came from a grant through Montana’s Universal Systems Benefits program, administered by NorthWestern Energy. Contributions also included proceeds from the 2015 Helena Sun Run, an annual event put on by SGCC and the Helena Vigilante Runners (HVR), that supports solar projects in the Helena Community. The inaugural Sun Run contributed $12,000 to the project. "It was impressive to see about 50 community organizations and businesses sponsor the Sun Run in support of the Library project," says Shiloh Hernandez who is involved with both SGCC and HVR. "With the Sun Run, we wanted to create an event that got people outside while supporting solutions to our climate and energy issues."

Installation of the solar array began over the winter of 2016, and ran into some hiccups along the way - including weather. Additional insulation was installed while replacing the roof, increasing the insulation value from an R-15 to an R-54. However, during installation of the solar array, the crew had to add more. “The standoff pipes that had been installed were filling with water and needed insulation,” says John Palm of Bozeman Green Build, whose company installed the array. “We had to insulate those before we could continue, but it was the dead of winter and we had to wait until things thawed out.” Construction finished in March.

The monitor in the lobby showing solar production

The project was always intended to be an educational project. “We wanted to show that businesses could engage in projects like these,” says Finn. “We’re a very visible organization, with such a prime spot on the walking mall.” The Library lobby features a television monitor with information about the array, including technical specifications and charts showing annual, monthly, weekly, and daily energy production. Finn has presented to local groups like the Kiwanis Club and during the Thursday morning “Hometown Helena” presentations. John Finn, John Palm, and Shiloh Hernandez will also be presenting on the project at this year’s Montana Clean Energy Fair.

Next steps for the Library include potential expansion of the Helena array, should the 50 kW cap restriction be increased. In the meantime, they are looking into arrays at their Augusta and Lincoln branches.

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