Powering the Future at Flathead Youth Home

Crisis-intervention home for kids celebrates 20 years in the Flathead with a Feb. 23 open house featuring new Tesla battery equipment

By Molly Priddy
Hannah Plumb, development coordinator with Flathead Youth home, shows a Tesla battery pack that stores solar energy at the home on Feb. 9, 2017. Greg Lindstrom | Flathead Beacon

The Flathead Youth Home in Kalispell is place that works primarily with the future.

Celebrating 20 years of working with more than 1,800 kids, the Flathead Youth Home provides short-term crisis intervention and longer-term group care for local kids ages 10 to 18.

Their futures depend on changing the present and learning from the past.

So, too, does the future of power and energy at Flathead Youth Home, but this time in a more literal sense. As the owners of a brand-new solar array with a state-of-the-art Tesla Power Wall battery, Flathead Youth Home is part of a 10-year study with Flathead Electric Cooperative to learn how such a set up could benefit a residential home by collecting and analyzing the data.

To the cooperative’s knowledge, it’s the first such system installed in the Flathead, and perhaps the state.

It was an easy fit with Flathead Youth Homes, Wendy Ostrom Price of Flathead Electric Cooperative, said.

“We had an application process. We thought, ‘If we’re going to do this, why not benefit a nonprofit organization?'” Ostrom Price said. “The youth home just fit all the criteria to a T.”

The solar array was installed on the youth home’s southern-facing roof, which also happens to face Oregon Street, a popular thoroughfare on the east north end of Kalispell. People will be able to see it, once the snow melts. The system is still relatively new – it only went fully operational in December.

Hannah Plumb, development coordinator at FYH since 2006, said the collaboration is an excellent reason for the community to engage with the house.

“We’re open to people stopping by and seeing it,” Plumb said. “Flathead Electric is so cutting edge on this. For this size of community, (this project) is just amazing.”

The system converts solar energy into power that can be stored in the 250-pound Tesla hanging on the wall in the youth home’s storage room. It’s sleek and modern, silent and unassuming until pointed out.

“We thought it was going to take up this whole room, but it barely takes up any space,” Plumb said.

The goal is to help offset some of the cost of electrical bills for the youth home, while giving Flathead Electric employees the chance to study and work with this technology. What they learn from this study could possibly be applied to residences in the future.

“It will be a benefit on their bills, and then at the end of our study, the equipment will stay there,” Ostrom Price said.

This February also marks Flathead Youth Home’s 20th anniversary, and in those two decades, it has seen at least 1,800 kids pass through. The home on East Oregon Street is the group’s “third or fourth” move, Plumb said, and it’s a perfect fit. Built seven years ago, the home has 10 beds for eight kids, allowing it to maintain residential status.

A Feb. 23 open house will allow the community to visit Flathead Youth Home and see the building, meet the people there, and check out the new Tesla system. It’s a nice dovetail event to celebrate the 20th anniversary and to connect with the community about the Flathead Electric project, Plumb said.

But the Feb. 23 event is also a way to say thank you to a community that continually comes through for the kids there, she said.

“In the 11 years I’ve worked as development coordinator, I’ve done a lot of asking. And to have the community come back with, ‘Yeah!’ nearly every time is amazing,” Plumb said.

The open house will run over lunchtime, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., and will include a banquet for visitors as a thank you.

Ostrom Price said the project is a win-win for both FEC and the youth home, especially in the case of FEC’s consistent pursuit of diverse energy sources. Plumb said she’s thrilled the project landed in the youth home, and knows the positive relationship with the cooperative will only grow.

“What a cool thing to do, this partnership with Flathead Electric,” Plumb said.