Montana Ski Area’s New Solar Array To Power Pivotal Chairlift


Discovery Ski Area has become the latest mountain to add a solar array. The Montana Free Press reports a 50-kilowatt solar array will be used to power the Anaconda chairlift during the 2023-24 season. This solar array will cover 70% of Anaconda’s power usage, reducing its energy by 76,000 kilowatt hours, and saving Discovery $11,000 per year.

In the interview with the Montana Free Press, Ciche Pitcher, who’s the President of the ski area, explained one of the reasons why they’re installing the solar array.

“We’re not naive enough to think that if we have a solar array we’re not now going to have climate change at Discovery. But in the sense that we want to be responsible for reducing our fossil fuel usage at Discovery, yeah, 100% it was a driver.”

The process to complete the array has been longer than expected. The idea first came around five years ago, when an installer told Discovery’s President that the U.S. Department of Agriculture has grants that can help rural businesses pay for renewable energy projects. A couple of years later, Discovery bought solar arrays due to increasing energy bills, but they sat around for a couple of years. This was partially due to the installer, who was the guy who originally talked with Ciche, decided to not help Discovery out due to the logistical challenges of installing a solar array on top of a mountain.

Discovery found a new partner in the spring of 2022 and began work in October. The day after they began pouring concrete, a major snowstorm ended any chance of construction before the 2022-23 season.

Construction has gone more smoothly this summer, with the racks and panels being installed. The next steps are for the ski resort to file paperwork with NorthWestern Energy, and will then need to switch over to a net meter from their current electric meter. It’s expected to be completed between the 2023-24 season.

In terms of the financial appeal of such a project, the Build Back Better Act has created major tax credits for renewable energy projects. With a cost of $82,000 before all the incentives, here’s how a grant and tax credits dwindled down that cost:

“I can tell [a business owner] that 50% of a project is a grant and another 30% is a tax credit, so they’re receiving an 80% discount on their project. Those kinds of numbers are very motivating for people.”

I’m curious to see what other ski resorts add solar arrays in the coming years, as it sounds like a great investment at the moment.

Image Credits: Discovery Ski Area

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