Repower MT Road Trip with Brea Gaudioso

roadtrip-image06A gold flash of lightning struck the valley and for just a moment the sky was the richest hue of purple. The thunder surrounded me. In the most peculiar way I was reminded of my childhood. Often, I drove down Las Vegas Boulevard seeing bright lights and flashes of gold.  On the road in Montana, things are much different though.
That is the reason I decided to attend school here in the big sky state. Mackenzie, the young woman who was sitting beside me felt the same. She and I took a road trip around the state of Montana as interns with AERO, the Alternative Energy Resources Organization. We are the interns for the Repower Montana project, AERO’S campaign to profile renewable energy success stories across the state.  We spent a week traveling around the state profiling different businesses, farms, homes and other projects that use alternative and renewable energy technology or natural and sustainable building methods.

Mackenzie, who also grew up in a big city, and myself found ourselves drawn to Montana because of the state’s ties to the outdoors. The relationships communities have fostered between themselves and their environment here are moving. Montana is wild and full of nature. It makes you feel like you are a part of Earth, rather than living in a cement block built up from the Earth.  On our trip, we found that many Montanans feel the same and that is why they have chosen to call this place home. Many of them are doing great things to keep our beautiful state clean, by cleaning up their sources of energy.
Each place we visited was unique.  Our first visit of the summer was to a quaint off-the- grid cabin nestled in the hills near St. Ignatius.  Lori Parr, a lavender farmer, purchased 20 acres with an inheritance she received where she now lives with her dog, spending her days farming lavender. While she relies solely on solar power, many places we visited installed alternative energy to compliment their existing power source, such as the Butte Emergency Food Bank and the Sacks Thrift Store in Bozeman.

Each person had their own motive for installing alternative energy projects. For example, Edward Roe who lives in Manhattan has a 4000 watt rotating solar system along with a 500 watt wind turbine and a 2400 watt hydro electric system in his creek. His motive: Y2K. It was 1999, the millennium was right around the corner and with speculation of permanent power outage, Roe took it into his own hands to be more self-sufficient by installing his solar and hydro electric systems. The year 2000 came and went with no major technological interruptions, but through Roe’s push towards sustainable energy, Roe set a wonderful precedent for the state. He was the first person in the state to use net metering. Net metering allows those who generate their own electricity from solar power to feed electricity they do not use back into the grid. Roe, being the first person to start net metering was uncertain of how the system would work or if it would work at all. Now 14 years later, people all over the state are using net metering. It allows people to stay on the grid and earn credit for the extra energy they produce; however, there are limitations on how much one can sell back. For example, the consumer cannot have a system that generated more than 50 KWh and energy credits only roll over for a 12-month period. At the end of the 12 months the remaining energy credits are granted back to the utility company. We see the importance of protecting and advancing net metering laws in the upcoming legislative session to support increased use and innovation with alternative energy technologies!

Our trip provided us with the opportunity to meet people from all different walks of life. Many people we met with agreed that at first a different means of power seems complicated, but once you are familiar with the technology it is actually quite simple. It was incredible to see such a diverse group of people all interested in sustainable practices: Farmers, businessmen, professors, government officials, public works officers and your typical next door neighbor, all have found ways to green up their sources of energy. They’ve showed its possible, agreed it is necessary and are asking you to join the movement in cleaning and greening our beautiful state.

I’m Brea Gaudioso for the Alternative Energy Resources Organization.  AERO is a grassroots membership organization serving as Montana’s hub for sustainable communities: inspiring change, connecting local leaders, and building capacity for success across the state for 40 years. If you’d like to get involved, please contact [email protected].

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