If they're successful in receiving a NorthWestern Energy grant, Missoula County commissioners and Sheriff T.J. McDermott will install rooftop solar panels at the detention center as part of the county's goal to transfer away from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

“This is an exciting opportunity,” said McDermott said at a meeting earlier this week. “We’ve been talking about this for a long time.”

McDermott told the commissioners that he assembled a team of solar experts who checked out the facility last spring, and decided the best way to start would be to install a 50-kilowatt panel on the warehouse building. He estimates that the panel could meet about 3% of the detention center’s energy needs. 

“We’ll take advantage of the grant opportunity, and start at a small scale,” he said. “We can always move on to larger projects in the future.” 

After the discussion, the commissioners agreed to apply for a grant from NorthWestern Energy, created to assist government and nonprofits with renewable energy projects, with stipulations that the installation include an educational component to help create awareness of the project and its benefits.

NorthWestern Energy will pay up to 95% of the estimated $100,000 cost of the project.  The remainder can be paid through an available low-interest loan from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality. 

“This is a step in the right direction,” said County Commissioner Josh Slotnick. “This can open us up to alternative financing that could eventually allow us to do similar solar projects on other government buildings at a much larger scale.”