FEC partners with Flathead Youth Home on innovative project

Solar panels being installed at Flathead Youth Home.

Flathead Electric has launched an innovative new research project to evaluate the impacts of residential solar systems. FEC General Manager Mark Johnson says the project supports the Co-op’s mission to serve as a resource for members by proactively analyzing advancements in the energy industry. “As solar and other technologies become more widely adopted, it’s important that we understand how they will affect our system, our members and the industry as a whole,” says Johnson.

A team of Flathead Electric employees developed a research strategy which includes the installation and data collection of a 7.2 kW net-metered solar array and battery backup system that will be analyzed over several years. Rather than installing the system on a family residence, the Co-op conducted an application process to select a local non-profit organization to receive the system (and its associated benefits). The objective was to find a facility with electrical usage similar to a family residence, and the Flathead Youth Home was selected.

Program Director Lance Isaak says he is excited about the project, calling it a “win” for all involved. “Flathead Electric will be able to utilize a well-known facility for research, and we will benefit from savings on electrical expenses and demands, which will help offset the costs of caring for our community’s youth in crisis,” says Isaak. “In addition, we all get to learn more about alternative energy.”

The solar installation at Flathead Youth Home includes a Tesla Power Wall battery for backup energy storage. Tesla’s leading-edge product has double the storage capacity of earlier devices, and, to Flathead Electric’s knowledge, it is the first one installed in Montana. It is anticipated that the entire system will be fully operational by mid-December. Johnson says gathering enough relevant data will take several years, which is why he’s taking initiative now. He credits this latest Co-op innovation to: “An exceptionally forward-thinking staff and Board of Trustees.”