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Solar panels to power, and teach -- in the North Fork of the Flathead

It took a contest from a company out of Maine, and a social media effort spanning across international borders for the Glacier Institute to get an alternative energy project installed on their off-grid campus. The Institute is a non-profit organization that offers educational opportunities for students and adults in and around Glacier National Park.

Executive Director Joyce Baltz said the Institute plans to have its alternative energy project be both functional, and educational.

“The goal was also to be able to teach these energy systems. And we are an authentic teaching site because we are off the power grid. As far as I know, we’re one of the only authentic teaching sites, that says what we do and then actually lives by it, that’s open to the public,” Baltz said. The Glacier Institute offers classes at a site within Glacier National Park. It also has a campus at Big Creek on Forest Service land up the North Fork of the Flathead River valley.

Last fall the Glacier Institute applied for a nationwide contest sponsored by Tom’s of Maine. The award program is called “50-states for Good.”     It chooses one project from each of the states, and then opens the contest to the public who votes, via social media for their favorite non-profit project. Tom’s of Maine awards one $50,000 grant, and five 20-thousand-dollar-grants. The Glacier Institute won a $20,000 grant.

The Institute teamed up with Sunelco Incorporated out of Hamilton to install the system. It includes solar panels which will charge up batteries and be used to offset the propane the Big Creek Campus uses to run electricity. Baltz says Sunelco also added some in-kind donations, and installed a wind energy system as well.

Baltz said this is a first step the Glacier Institute hopes to expand upon in the future.