Thanks to Conservancy grant, Polebridge ranger station goes solar

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New solar panels at the Polebridge Ranger Station.

The historic Polebridge Ranger Station in Glacier National Park has turned to the sun for some of its power. The Park Service, with a $98,000 grant from the Glacier National Park Conservancy, recently installed three large solar panels through contractor Solar Plexus out of Missoula.

The battery bank and inverter power panel were installed in the spring and the solar array, which sits to the north of the entrance station, was installed at the end of September.

The ranger station, which houses a full-time ranger year round and seasonal staff during the summer, used to rely solely on a diesel generator. In 2014, it converted to a propane generator, but energy use was higher than expected, so the Park asked the Conservancy for help with a passive solar system.

“Right now two out of three panels are working,” said park spokeswoman Lauren Alley. “The third is having a few mechanical issues that the contractor is addressing. When all three are working, the intent is to very rarely have to run the propane generator at all.”

The project is expected to decrease fuel use, greenhouse gas production and noise by 66 percent, the Park Service noted. The Park expects the system will pay for itself in three to five years in propane savings.

Conservancy spokeswoman Amy Dempster said the organization will fund a similar solar project at the Apgar Visitor Center next year.

“If the park can save $10,000-$20,000 a year that is pretty big savings and equates to an extra set or two of boots on the ground helping out with the summer season,” Dempster noted.

The Glacier Conservancy funded this project in full through funding from last year’s Great Fish Challenge and also from general donations.

The price of solar panels has dropped dramatically in the past few years.

In 2017 alone, they fell about 30 percent, as production in China has continued to drive the market down, according to a story in the energy website, utilitydive.com.

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