HELENA — Don’t forget your shades the next time you’re at Helena College. That’s because the institution of higher learning is now a place of shining power after installing new solar panels that the college hopes will be just the beginning of a brighter future.
“A few years ago we had some concerns on campus, particularly in our trades program, our lighting wasn’t enough to do a good job of allowing our students to see what they needed to see to working on your equipment," Helena College Dean/CEO Sandy Bauman told MTN. "It started with that, and from there our research of facilities we moved into this major upgrade of the lighting and looking at solar as a piece of that project.”
A project that the college hopes will reduce their energy footprint by 20 percent, and hopefully save some money down the road.
“[What] we initially wanted to accomplish with this project was to reduce our energy costs, reduce our energy footprint, and that meant to get rid of all the high energy use florescent [lights] and metal allied lighting," Helena College Director of Facilities and Maintenance Jon Rutherford told MTN. "So we replaced all the lighting with LED lights. And part of that project, because we were able to finance it the way we did, we were able to add in the 50-kilowatt solar panel system to help further reduce our energy costs. The planning went into it from the standpoint of taking a holistic approach, I guess, to energy reduction. And we have the ability to do that, we have roof space to do that, so we took advantage of all that.”
At a cost of roughly $100,00, the school looks to pay back that funding in about 15 years, weather permitting.
“Our paying off of, our payments to the loan are generated by our energy savings. So there is no net cost to the college." Rutherford said.
And according to Bauman, the eventual savings will go back to the college.
“What we would do with the funds, would be to continue to improve our facilities for our students," said Bauman. "You know we’re always looking for making upgrades, both on the academic side and student life side and student support services that we offer on campus. So absolutely any funding that comes into the campus benefits students one way or another.”
That is up to mother nature though.
“We’re away from the mountains, we’re not getting a lot of blockage from there. We do have good altitude so we get good clear sky, good clear air… most of the time,” laughed Rutherford.