From exercise equipment that creates electricity to a how-to guide on financing solar panels for residential homes, some Missoula businesses are putting major efforts into sustainability as Earth Day nears on April 22.
Paul Herendeen, the director of impact market development at Missoula Federal Credit Union, has put together a detailed brochure called “Financial Analysis of Residential Solar: A Guide for Homeowners” to give people a simplified way to find out of solar panels are a cost-effective option for them.
The guide, available online at missoulafcu.org/environment/, gives anyone thinking about solar panels in Montana information about what to expect, including potential risks and opportunities.
Herendeen said he decided to write the guide because there wasn’t anything like it available to consumers.
“I was looking for that guide and wasn’t able to find it,” he said. “Everything was either incredibly detailed or incredibly simplistic. There were either things like Google’s Project Sunroof, which allows you to see a few numbers, or incredibly complicated national models. My whole point was to create something readable but technically rigorous.”
Herendeen knows that a lack of good information is a barrier for many people considering switching to renewable energy rather than electricity from fossil fuels like coal and natural gas, which contribute to pollution and climate change.
“People would ask me about financing solar, and a lot of them had trouble finding information they could trust,” he said. “In general, people want to know whether it makes financial sense. They want to know specific questions like should you wait for prices to go down or do you want to pay with a loan.”
Herendeen doesn’t have blanket answers for any question, because he says everyone’s financial situation is different.
“The renewable energy landscape is changing very rapidly, and I would encourage people to do their homework,” he said. “They need to look into their own financial situation. My hope is that this guide will help them do that.”
The brochure lists both federal and state tax credits that can help homeowners pay for solar, as well as information about how solar installation prices have fallen for the last 10 years while average electricity prices in Montana have risen in the same time period. He also lists available loan programs, like the Montana Department of Environmental Quality’s Alternative Energy Loan program.
“In many regards the financial risk associated with solar PV systems is low, as system performance is generally under warranty and electricity prices are fairly stable,” Herendeen wrote. The two biggest risks are changes to the utility rate structure and political changes. However, there are also upside risks, including the possibility that electricity prices will rise faster than in the past.
Herendeen said his goal isn’t to advise people one way or the other, but to provide them enough information for them to make an educated choice.
“My hope is this would be a good start for anyone putting solar on their home,” he said.
Climate Smart Missoula and the Montana Renewable Energy Association hosted workshops and presentations (available for online viewing at missoulaclimate.org/solar-ease.html) this past winter featuring Herendeen’s work.
“The feedback was pretty positive,” Herendeen said. “The only question I hadn’t thought much about was how to incentivize new home construction to include solar, and I still don’t have an answer for that.”
Missoula Federal Credit Union has solar panels on its buildings in Missoula as well, but they aren’t the only local business committed toward sustainable energy sources.
The Source Health Club, a gym on Russell Street, recently installed Montana’s first exercise equipment that harnesses human energy and puts it back into the power grid. They have installed a line of treadmills, ellipticals and bikes, made by SportsArt, that use micro-inverters to capture and convert about 74 percent of the energy put in by the user for up to 200 watts per hour.
“We were the first to test out this new equipment and are excited to pioneer a more sustainable movement in the health industry,” said Christina Neil, Co-Owner at The Source. “In addition to the equipment, The Source has been implementing ways to become more sustainable and eco-friendly, from our T-shirts, to the cleaning products and paper towels — we are continuing to research products we use. Our goal is to be a responsible part of the Missoula community and partner in their goal of moving towards zero waste by 2050.”
The ECO-POWR equipment, as it’s called, offsets the building's and members’ carbon footprints, said Neil, who owns the gym with her husband Dallas Neil.
On Saturday April 21, from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m., The Source will be exhibiting the new ECO-POWR equipment and have locals try to generate up to 1000 watts in 2 hours on the machines.
Then on Sunday, April 22, from noon to 4 p.m., The Source will be on tour to the public in partnership with Missoula Urban Demonstration Project (MUD) for the Earth Day Fair. Day Passes for the Health Club will be at no charge all weekend and the public is encouraged to join.