Chasing the Sun

Advocates see great potential in Montana’s growing solar power industry, but a Public Service Commission decision has changed the landscape.

Up the North Fork of the Flathead — one of the wildest valleys remaining in the lower 48 states — the Polebridge Mercantile acts as a tiny haven of modernity, offering visitors baked goods, cold beer, supplies, and even a slow Internet dial-up.

Maintaining this human oasis in the elements is no easy task, but one especially trying aspect of running a business up the North Fork is having no access to a power grid or electricity.

That’s where owner Will Hammerquist decided to get creative. Behind the red-box frame of the mercantile sits an old historic barn, where the original owners housed horses to ride into town.

Now, the barn is covered in high-tech solar panels that capture sunshine and turn it into power to run the store. One source of power swapped for another, Hammerquist likes to say about the barn.
“We’re probably close to running 75 percent on solar power,” Hammerquist said in an interview last week.