NorthWestern Energy, MCPS and City of Missoula Urban Solar Action Research Project Partnership
In 2017-18, MCPS launched a partnership with NorthWestern Energy and the City of Missoula, to build solar installations at Hellgate, Sentinel, Big Sky and Willard (the latter of which is in the form of a solar fence). The $1 million pilot project, to be entirely funded and maintained by NorthWestern Energy, is part of the company’s large-scale studies around creating renewable energy solutions that can meet the demands of the regional energy grid.
Within this realm, the project focuses on two areas of study: urban solar installations and education. MCPS students and teachers will play a key part in these studies, providing for hands-on learning experiences that will prepare students for jobs and help ensure a sustainable future. With data made available through a website hosted by NorthWestern Energy (nwesolar.com), Science, Math, and CTE teachers have written curriculum around analyzing the data and learning about solar energy for use in high school classrooms.
While specific research projects are yet to be determined, students will read the data to identify the immediate impact of the installations, such as KW and customer usage, and then apply this to long-term consequences, such as how many homes each installation offsets and the scale necessary to generate enough power. The idea is that we’re all learning together and our hope is that as a community we learn about urban solar installations, how the energy produced works with the larger energy grid, and what it takes to produce high-quality, low-cost energy.
The project will help the district prepare students to solve problems for our energy future. All partners in the group understand we need energy solutions; what better way to do that than by providing students in high school with the necessary engineering and design skills?
Another positive outcome of the project involves NorthWestern Energy’s hiring of CTA Architects Engineers to help design the structures along with SBS Solar. The CTA team includes Hellgate 2013 graduate Nathan Bronec and his father Alan Bronec.
As a high school freshman, Nathan joined the district’s first Robotics team, for which he is now a mentor. Alan, who has been a Robotics mentor since Nathan joined in 2009, was the 2017 recipient of the MCPS Outstanding Mentor Award. To father and son, the NorthWestern Energy solar project offers many of the benefits they appreciate about robotics, which Nathan said he was drawn to because of the hands-on learning it provided. To him, the potential impact on the curriculum is the most significant aspect of the project.
As he explained, “The solar project will contribute to more hands-on experience in the schools. Students don’t always have the opportunity for this type of learning.”
Alan agreed, and added that the hands-on component not only helps students, but is beneficial to employers too. “We have a hard time finding good talent,” Alan noted. “As with Robotics, the solar project will teach skills that are hard to train for. When I interview somebody, if they can think critically, solve problems, work on teams, and have a strong work ethic and positive attitude, I can train them in whatever we do in the industry.”
Construction at all four sites is was completed in October 2019 .
The Missoula County Public Schools core goal is helping students prepare for their future - one that we know will require innovation and renewable energy sources. This action research project will support students in learning the knowledge and skills to be a part of our energy future.
The Missoula City Council also adopted the 100% clean electricity by 2030 for the City of Missoula resolution. This action research project supports the City of Missoula in learning about the feasibility of similar solar installations to deliver power for the city’s needs while reaching the clean electricity goal.
Northwestern Energy’s goal is to gather information that will help identify sustainable business models for adding renewable technology to its energy grid. This action research project supports Northwestern Energy’s research into the ways that small renewable energy projects could interact with the larger power grid and how they fulfill local power needs while also helping to balance the larger power consumption needs of the state.
Together, we want to create efficient energy consumers as well as add local and renewable sources of energy to the total energy grid.
Remember, OUR LEAST EXPENSIVE SOURCE OF ELECTRICITY COMES FROM PEOPLE SAVING ENERGY! Check out the Climate Smart Missoula website for some helpful tips all of us can use for managing your own energy consumption.
For additional information, please visit the NorthWestern Energy website.