Lucas Ward, assistant professor and program coordinator, environmental management and policy, 406.238.7277,
RMC Media Team, 406.657.1105,

Photo caption: 13 kW of solar generation rose on Bair Family Student Center at RMC April 22.

Solar Panel InstallationSolar panels go up on Earth Day; students celebrate Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

BILLINGS, April 22, 2014 – Electricity generated by new solar panels will power a portion of Bair Family Student Center beginning this week. The RMC Environmental Club, which organized the project and found all funding, cuts the project ribbon at a student barbeque Thursday, April 24, at 5:30 p.m. on the RMC Green.

The College’s own solar power production, known as distributed energy, diminishes electric bills by the approximately $1,800 of annual savings generated by the panels’ 13 kW. Savings will be returned twice a year to the RMC Environmental Club for maintenance and further investments in sustainability efforts.

Grants won by an RMC student group paid the $65,025 cost to acquire and install 51 250-watt DC high-efficiency panels made by the American company Suniva. Funding came from a Northwestern Energy universal systems benefits (USB) grant, the project installer Winpower West, ASRMC student government, the Cinnabar Foundation, and donations from RMC and the College’s environmental studies and environmental science programs.

A student group led by junior Renee Seacor of Ossining, N.Y., started and found all funding for the project. Each year a “Greener Campus” project in Kayhan Ostovar’s ESC 105 Sustainable Communities class asks groups to create one small change they apply to make campus more sustainable. 

“Renee’s group, including Brent Brumfield [of Murrieta, Calif.], Blake Brightman [of Ellisville, Mo.], and Riley Dennis [of Charlo, Mont.], spearheaded by Renee’s passion for the project, took it a step further and really went after grants to make this a reality for RMC,” said Ostovar, associate professor of biology and environmental science. “I always tell students that if they want to see change on campus, then they have to be the driving force to make that change a reality,” he said.

Now Ostovar has Seacor come speak to his freshman classes when they are brainstorming for new projects. “Her group project and leadership with the environmental club is an example of how a student idea can come to reality on our campus,” he said.

Because the Northwestern Energy USB grant goes to a project with clear educational benefits, Seacor’s group requested that touchscreen monitors in the Bair Family Student Center map the power generation and savings of each panel and the array instantaneously and over time, while the same data streams over the Internet. Our responsibility is not only to conserve resources but to educate further generations, Seacor said.

Ben Reed of Billings, owner of Winpower West and a grant donor, said, “This is a model for utilities that works now.”