Calm Animal Care Goes Solar!

Calm Animal Care joins handful of local residences on the grid.
Solar Panels

Kip Drobish checks his progress while realigning solar panels at Calm Animal Care in Kila. – Lido Vizzutti/Flathead Beacon

(Story taken from an article in the Flathead Beacon by Myers Reece)

KILA – In a valley with notoriously gray skies, solar-powered electricity might not seem to be the most viable energy source. Yet for decades, rural people who live outside of the Flathead Electric Cooperative power grid have relied on a combination of solar panels backed up by batteries or generators.

Now, tucked away in Kila, the Flathead has its first grid-tied, solar-powered business: Calm Animal Care.

Last November, Kip Drobish of Oso Renewable Energy along with Whitefish electrician Richard Cowen, installed a grid-tied, battery-backup photovoltaic system for Barbara Calm, the clinic’s owner. The term “grid-tied” means that Calm’s solar electricity system is connected directly to the Flathead Electric power grid. At the clinic, nine large solar panels harvest energy – sunlight – and either supply on-site electrical needs or feed energy back into the grid when the system’s output is greater than the on-site load demand.

Furthermore, energy is stored in a backup battery, which is the foremost reason Calm installed the system. The Kila area is known for frequent and, at times, prolonged power outages. Calm’s clinic has computerized medical records, one of the only digital X-ray processors in the valley and specialized dental lamps that are of utmost importance when working on an animal’s teeth. Surgeries can’t be interrupted either.

So not only is it dangerous for her veterinary practice to have sudden blackouts, it’s not good for business. As she puts it: “I’ve never lost a patient, but I’ve lost clients.” When the power goes out, her business can operate for up to two days on the battery.

Drobish said Calm is part of what he views as an increasingly necessary – though lagging in Montana – movement away from fossil fuels and toward renewable energy, especially solar.

“She’s a pioneer,” Drobish said.

In recent years, the valley has seen a steady rise in interest regarding renewable energy, but most of the solar-powered efforts remain off-grid, meaning they are not linked to Flathead Electric’s utilities. Ross Holter, energy services supervisor for Flathead Electric, said there are six local residences with grid-tied solar power systems, while Calm’s is the only business besides Flathead Electric itself. There is also an office building in Bigfork with solar panels, Holter said, as well as a residence that uses wind energy.

The Kila area is home to a community of off-grid, solar-powered homes that have backup generators. Holter said there are also people scattered throughout isolated places like the North Fork of the Flathead who utilize solar energy. Calm’s personal residence, which is off the grid, has relied on solar panels and a backup generator since the 1980s. Drobish installed a system at his Kila house in 1993.

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