Small-Scale Renewable Energy


Solar photovoltaic PV panels

Photovoltaic system on a Bozeman home. Photo:Bilo

Solar photovoltaic (PV) panels allow you to harness energy from the sun, creating your own energy and avoiding the carbon emissions typically associated with energy from the grid. Systems can be tied to the electric grid or totally off-grid, with batteries for nighttime power. For grid-tied systems, NorthWestern Energy currently provides net metering. This allows you to get credit for surplus energy your system produces that you don’t use, and will be credited towards future energy bills. Any surplus credit remaining at the end of the year will not carry over into subsequent billing periods. Most residential systems in Montana are between 1 and 3 kW in size, and have a pre-incentive cost from $10,000 to $20,000, including installation. With the many tax incentives and credits available, most homeowners are able to reduce the cost of a system by up to 50 percent. Alternatively, some companies offer the option to lease panels. If you’re considering a solar PV system, make sure to view the live monitoring displays for the City of Bozeman’s two solar photovoltaics systems at the Bozeman Public Library and Bozeman City Hall, and read these many success stories from throughout the state.

Learn More about Solar PV in Bozeman

Making Way for Solar Rooftops

The City Commission recently adopted a code amendment (Section 38.42.990) that makes designated commercial roof-mounted solar arrays as an essential service (type I), thus no longer requiring either a Conditional Use Permit or M-2 zoning. With this amendment, commercial building owners who wish to install their own solar array or host an array through a third party lease agreement will have no city created impediments to doing so. Featured Solar PV Success Story

Next Steps

Greater Yellowstone Coalition building

Greater Yellowstone Coalition building

Solar hot water systems utilize the warmth of the sun to heat your water, or indoor air. No electricity generation involved, folks; this is not solar-electric. It’s a simple concept that has been around for years, but now with sophisticated engineering on your side. Pre-heat your water with the sun, before it enters your water heater (or use to pre-heat air going into your furnace). And yes, this really does work well in cold climates like Montana! Residential systems often cost less than $10,000 and reduce your water heating bills by 50 to 80 percent.

Learn More about Solar Hot Water in Bozeman

Get Serious: Review MSU Extension’s E3A factsheets on solar hot water, and if you are serious, complete the system sizing worksheet. It will walk you through all the nitty-gritty details (financial and physical) of what it will take to put solar hot water on your home.

Investigate Incentives

State and Federal Incentives:

View Installer Directories

Montana State University wind turbine

MSU installed a 50 ft wind turbine to help educate students about wind energy.

Small wind systems are not often viable in Bozeman. You need a location with sustained winds over 10 to 12 MPH in order for it to work well, while the Gallatin Valley typically has wind speeds of only 4 to 5 MPH. In addition, you will generally need at least one acre of available land around the site where you plan to place a turbine, and be prepared to erect a tower that is somewhere from 30 to 120 feet tall. City code allows for a building-mounted wind energy collector to extend up to 15 ft above the building; requirements for stand-alone constructions are more nuanced, and depend upon the zoning of your property. Small wind is rarely a viable option within Bozeman city limits, but is certainly worth considering if you have a large, windy property near Bozeman. To see how a turbine works in Bozeman, see the live feed from MSU’s Wind Applications Center turbine, on campus. Go see the installation on the southeast corner of campus, at 5th street.


Learn More about Wind Energy in Bozeman

  • Wind Potential Map: If you live outside of Bozeman, see whether wind could work for you.
  • Get Serious: Complete the E3A Worksheets on small wind from MSU Extension. It will walk you through all the nitty-gritty details (financial and physical) of what it will take to put small wind on your property.
  • View Installer Directories
  • Investigate Incentives. State, Federal, and Utility Incentives:
    • NorthWestern Energy electric customers are eligible for incentives for renewable energy systems through the Universal Systems Benefit (USB) renewable energy program.  For wind systems, incentives of $2 per watt are available, up to a maximum of $10,000 per system. For more information on USB incentives, click here
    • Federal Tax Credits are available to cover 30 percent of the cost of a renewable energy system, with no maximum amount.  Federal tax credits expire in 2016. For more information, click here
    • Montana Tax Credits of $500 per taxpayer, up to $1,000 per household, are also available. For more information, click here
    • Low-Interest Loans are available from the Montana Department of Environmental Quality through the Alternative Energy Revolving Loan Program. For more information, click here

A geothermal system can help cool your house in the summer, and heat it in the winter. These systems typically use 25 to 50 percent less energy than a traditional heating or cooling system. Instead of using electricity to run an air conditioner to cool or burn natural gas to heat, these systems take advantage of the fact that shallow groundwater maintains a fairly constant temperature year-round.  

Learn More about Geothermal Heating in Bozeman


Did we forget a great local resource for renewable energy? Let us know!