Rev. Daniel J. Wathen and Kathryn Tilleman at the St. Jude Thaddeus Catholic School in Havre had been eyeing a solar array for the past four years. “We had it on our mind, but the finances weren’t working out for us,” says Rev. Wathen. They had tried working with a number of different groups, but found many don’t fund projects like these or didn’t have funding available. It wasn’t until Rev. Wathen was at a steam boiler maintenance training that he overheard a conversation about solar installations. That’s when he received a recommendation for NorthWestern Energy’s Universal Systems Benefits (USB) grants program.
“NorthWestern was excellent to work with. They walked us through the whole process,” says Tilleman who is the school’s Development Director and worked on the grants for the project.
Some of the motivation for the project was certainly practical, helping the school save important funds. In addition to the St. Jude Thaddeus school, the meter that the array is connected to also serves the old high school building (Central Building). The lower level of the building houses the Havre's Helping Haven, which distributes used clothes and gently used household goods to the needy. The St. Jude school uses the gym and a youth dance group rents the main floor of the Central Building.
The project also has an educational focus. St. Jude installed a kiosk at the main entrance to the school that allows students, parents, and visitors to monitor the array’s output. The kiosk features a display screen with live production information, which Tilleman says has been used to educate students. “We’re mostly working with the junior high teachers right now to begin discussing education around the array,” says Tilleman. “But all the students are attentive. They can see the array up there and they’re all asking questions, which is great!”
To date, the array is the largest on a Catholic grade school in Montana. The array itself features 120 panels, with a total installed capacity of 34.2kW. Rev. Wathen says the array could be expanded to one day reach 41kW.