BUTTE, Mont. - Senior citizens meal programs provide a necessary service for our older neighbors. That's why NorthWestern Energy and the National Center for Appropriate Technology (NCAT) are looking to provide some of these programs with help from the sun.

A new solar demonstration project called "Solar Meals for Seniors" will install solar electric systems on eight to10 facilities free of charge. Ranging in size from one to two kilowatts, the systems will provide a portion of each building's electricity needs, thus saving money for the facility. Any excess electricity produced by the system will be fed into the utility grid through a net-metering agreement.

In addition to the installation of the solar electric systems, each facility will receive a free energy audit to identify measures or operating procedures that may further reduce energy costs should the participating facilities choose to implement the recommendations. According to NorthWestern and NCAT, solar electric systems require very little maintenance and generate "green" electricity, which is less harmful to the environment than fossil fuels.

"Energy costs are a concern for all of us," said John Walden, an NCAT engineer. "Through this project, senior meal programs will be able to save money by generating a portion of their electricity from the sun and learn what other measures may be available to increase their savings. More importantly, less money spent on electricity means that more money is available for these food programs to operate."

The project is administered by the NCAT and is funded by NorthWestern Energy's Universal Systems Benefits (USB) charge paid by the company's electric customers.

Participants must receive their electricity from NorthWestern Energy in order to participate. Additionally, buildings must meet basic site requirements including a roof that is adaptable for the installation of solar panels and an unobstructed southern exposure from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Interested facilities must submit a completed application to NCAT. Deadline for applications is June 18, 2004.

NCAT staff members are available to assist facilities with filling out the application. To request an application packet, or to request assistance in completing it, call toll-free 866-723-8677. The application is also available at www.montanagreenpower.com.

Publication date: 06/14/2004