The Emerson Center for Arts and Culture, a nonprofit community arts center housed in a 96-year-old former elementary school in Bozeman, now boasts a very modern element on its roof: a 30 kilowatt solar array, the largest in the Bozeman city limits. The solar array is net metered, meaning that when it produces more clean energy than the building needs, the excess flows onto the electric grid and the Emerson Center receives a credit on its power bill. Those bill savings are fed directly back into the Emerson Center’s programs: it houses art galleries, event spaces, and a large theater, and hosts scores of classes, workshops, events and performances each year.
The Emerson Center’s new solar array was funded by longtime Emerson Center supporter and renewable energy advocate Tim Crawford. Bozeman solar company Onsite Energy designed and installed the system. Many other local contractors took part in the project, including structural engineers, electrical engineers, roofers, and electricians.
Orion Thornton, co-owner of Onsite Energy, explains that the greatest challenge from an installer’s point of view stemmed from the building’s age. "It’s almost a 100 year old building. It’s not that it was structurally unsound, but to meet snow loading requirements we had to reinforce the trusses and keep the system to 2.5 pounds per square foot. That dictated the racking and solar modules that we used." Onsite Energy chose a shared racking system for the project, which involves significantly fewer rails than a typical racking system, reducing both the system’s weight and the number of roof penetrations required.