MCC seeks to be leader in evolving Agri-Energy field

Miles Community College (MCC) hosted the Agri-Energy Innovation in Eastern Montana Symposium in conjunction with the annual Cowtown Beef Breeders’ Show in Miles City on Friday. 

The symposium attracted a crowd of about 50, primarily students, business leaders, college staff and community members. 

With the new Ag Advancement Center nearing completion the college is hoping to take advantage of the extra space to add new classes and workforce training to it’s ag program.

According to MCC President Stacy Klippenstein, the college is always looking for ways to expand and fill needs in the area.

“We want to continue to advance. We want to be the epitome of ag in this area,” said Klippenstein. 

MCC is currently identifying industry partners to collaborate with to provide solar and wind energy programs at the college.

They are currently talking to Montana-Dakota Utilities and NorthWestern Energy, Colstrip, and reaching out to wind companies.

“We are always in the middle of conversation,” said Klippenstein. 

According to Klippenstein, the college hopes to provide some kind of solar energy training at the Ag Advancement Center this summer. 

While no new classes or workforce training programs have been set in stone, if new programs are added MCC hopes to house them at the Ag Center. Another goal is to install solar panels at the Ag Center. 

“We want to be the hub, center piece, the glue that holds it all together,” Klippenstein said. 

The symposium was an opportunity to introduce the community to the developing agri-energy field and to gather industry leaders in one room. 

The event was comprised of three presentations. The presenters came from across Montana, California and Washington. 

One of MCC’s partners is OnSite Energy out of Bozeman.

Orion Thornton, OnSite co-owner, spoke about a project where they installed solar powered irrigation pumps outside of Roundup. The energy produced by the ground-mounted solar unit will offset the electrical usage from the three pumps. 

Onsite Energy has also completed projects at Great Falls High School, at residential homes, on ranches and more.

Thornton said he doesn’t think that Montana should completely stop using gas and coal, but they should consider adding green energy to the mix.

The second presenter, Chris Hodge, wasn’t able to be at the symposium in person so he appeared via Skype. He is the senior vice president of California-based NaturEner USA & Canada.

NaturEner helps develop and operate renewable energy projects across North America, include wind farms in Glacier and Tooke in Montana. 

The final presenters were Jim Kastama of Seattle and Devin B. Holmes of Missoula. 

Kastama and Holmes don’t work with green energy but are instead considered innovators. Kastama is a strategy and technology consultant and Holmes is the co-founder of the Big Sky Code Academy, which works on software development and technology training programs.

They stressed that MCC needs to think outside the box, keep innovating and develop partnerships.