When Leandra Hill of Three Forks, Montana, decided to install a solar energy system on her property – a former dairy farm – she discovered that her rooftop was just not viable for solar. To maximize solar output, a south-facing roof aspect is important, but all of her south-facing roof space was shaded by large trees. Luckily, she learned, there was an alternative: a pole-mounted solar array.
Ms. Hill’s recently-completed 15 kilowatt pole-mounted solar array is expected to provide 100% of the annual electricity use of the two houses and shop building on the property. And the system doesn’t just produce local, Montana-made solar energy, but it also supported Montana manufacturing. The array was installed by Bozeman-based business Onsite Energy, using an innovative pole mount technology designed and manufactured by MT Solar of Charlo, Montana. And while no solar panels are manufactured in Montana, the silicon in the REC Solar panels used in the project may have been manufactured at the REC plant just down the road in Butte. Other local businesses involved in the installation included Bozeman Electric, LLC, which performed the electrical wiring, and Bill Monnett Construction, Inc., which performed the site excavation.
Conor Darby, solar installer and co-owner of Onsite Energy, explains that MT Solar’s pole-mount technology allows installers to assemble the pole mount and solar panels at waist level and then hoist them to top upon completion. This eliminates the need for cranes or other heavy equipment, reducing the time and cost of the installation. Conor says, “Building the array at ground level, and then easily hoisting it into place, we felt that we had entered a whole new realm after installing racks and panels on ladders for the last decade.”
According to Janelle Stauff of MT Solar, the company has been manufacturing pole mounts for several years. Until recently they were only selling their products locally, but within the past year they have begun selling to solar installers all over the country. They currently employ 5 full time and 5 part time employees in Western Montana, and plan to expand to meet the growing demand for their products.
Project owner Leandra Hill is a longtime supporter of solar energy who was glad to be able to install her own system with the help of a loan from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program. The program makes loans of up to $40,000 at a low interest rate (currently 3.25%) for the installation of alternative energy systems including solar, wind, micro-hydropower, biomass, and ground-source heat pumps.