Gary Hawk of Missoula has had many occupations in his life—Congregationalist minister, professional woodworker, university professor—and now that he’s retired he has been able to fulfill a decades-long dream: owning a rooftop solar system. Gary’s interest in renewable energy dates back to the environmental movement of the ‘70s, when he first began to explore how his spiritual convictions converged with his environmental beliefs. It was clear to Gary that fossil fuel use was degrading the climate and the environment, and he has been attracted to renewable energy ever since. The ‘Solarize Missoula’ program was the catalyst Gary needed to fulfill his goal of rooftop solar.
Solarize Missoula was a program to dramatically increase solar installations in Missoula by making it simpler and more affordable for homeowners like Gary to go solar. Solarize Missoula was organized by the Montana Renewable Energy Association in partnership with the Missoula Federal Credit Union, Climate Smart Missoula, the City of Missoula, and the Montana Department of Environmental Quality.
Gary heard about Solarize Missoula on the radio and attended an information session about it at the Missoula public library in December 2015. At the information session, he learned that he could sign up for a free solar site assessment to be conducted by one of the four local solar installers participating in the program. After the site assessment, he would have the option to choose whether or not to have a solar system installed. Solarize Missoula also set pricing for solar installations completed through the program so participants could be sure they were getting a good deal.
Gary signed up, and was contacted soon after by SBS Solar to schedule a site assessment. At the assessment, Dan Brandborg, owner of SBS Solar, identified the south-facing roof of Gary’s woodworking shop as the best place on the property for a solar array.
Gary decided to take full advantage of the space on his shop roof and have a 6.5 kilowatt solar array installed. That size will allow him to power both his home and his woodworking machinery with solar. His system is net metered, and Gary likes the fact that when he produces more electricity than he uses on-site, he’s contributing solar energy to the grid.
Gary was greatly impressed by the team at SBS Solar and the pace at which they operated; the solar panels were installed quickly and the net meter was connected by NorthWestern Energy on March 11, 2016. Gary immediately began to track the energy produced by his solar panels. He enjoys watching the kilowatt-hours rack up: “It’s coal and gas that they’re not burning.”