The Whitehall Ledger - Serving Southern Jefferson County in the Great State of Montana

By Renata Birkenbuel
Contributing Writer 

Borton workshop on solar power may flip the switch


October 4, 2017

When it comes to solar power, off-the-grid guru Christopher Borton of Whitehall seems to have a direct line to the sun.

Alternative Energy Resources Organization (AERO) Expo participants will find out on Saturday, Oct. 21, when Borton gives a solar power-directed workshop, one of a dozen sustainability-themed skill and resource sharing sessions on the agenda. Borton's workshop, "Energy 201: PV 4 U," will provide participants with the tools and knowledge they need to explore putting solar panels on their home or business.

Butte hosts the annual conference this year from Oct. 20-22. AERO organizers open the conference to non-members, as well, and offer 20 scholarships for agriculture and environmental students, VISTA/AmeriCorps members, farm interns, farm employees and Native Americans. See ticket rates at

Co-founder of Sage Mountain Center in Whitehall with partner Linda Welsh, Borton, a long-time AERO member, has promoted solar power, sustainable living, physical health and inner development during SMC's 28-year existence.

The center uses 3,000 watts of solar panels and a 1,000-watt wind generator to convert natural resources into electricity. "Since we are off-grid, the electricity is stored in sealed batteries for nighttime use," Borton writes on Sage Mountain's website. "The batteries are recharged during the day by the solar panels and by the wind generator when the wind is blowing. In 25 years, Sage Mountain Center has never paid an electric bill because it has generated 100 percent of its electricity from the sun."

In his AERO workshop, Borton will address compatibility issues for solar and different types of homes. Costs have fallen significantly, he said, plus new technology improves the conversion to solar energy.

"Our biggest goal is to inspire people toward the possibility of sustainable living," said Borton. "That would include showing our off-grid facility, ways to utilize the sun for heating, electricity and for growing – and for exploring the ways that the natural world can influence us as far as how we move and live on the planet in a positive way."

Butte as Expo host this year is a deliberate AERO membership choice, said AERO Expo planning committee co-chair Robin Kelson. The Mining City's recent draw of young people to the arts, festivals and open entrepreneurial atmosphere is quietly replacing the old Butte's struggle to regain its mining glory days.

Borton said AERO and Butte go together, naturally.

"Historically, Butte has always been tied to its environment and the land, primarily through mining," he said. "The AERO Expo for me is a great fit, a way to bring in new ideas and look at different ways to explore the same land we all live on and share."

Outsiders may envision Butte only as a party town or a down-and-out shell of its former self. But Borton sees something else in the former company town born of immigrants. "Butte's actually a beautiful valley with the East Ridge and Continental Divide. It has a lot going for it that others might not be aware of, in terms of its friendly people. It has been fairly stable in terms of population. But it does seem to be on an upswing in terms of cultural diversity."

He melds the strength of Butte mines with minds, as the university on top of the hill cranks out world-class engineers year after year. "There are amazing minds being created through Montana Tech as one of the leading universities in the world in terms of mining and technology," he added.

Kelson agrees that Butte has a lot to offer – even more as Expo host. "Butte is a thriving community because there are so many people with hope," she said. "You cannot create art if you don't have hope and there's a tremendous amount of art here. Where you have hope, you have community."

Courtesy Photo


Speaking of community, Borton has been an AERO member for about 20 years. He recently coordinated the recent Montana Clean Energy Fair in Helena for the Montana Renewable Energy Association (MREA). The family-friendly traveling fair, which drew 700 attendees, educates the public about clean energy options available in Montana.

For more in-depth solar information at the AERO Expo, presenter Dave Ryan will also give an "Energy 101: First Things First" workshop during the Expo to guide attendees in how and why to reduce energy use on their way to starting a solar project.

Borton and Walsh will lead a tour of their Sage Mountain Center on Friday morning, Oct. 20 as part of the Expo kick-off tour events. Highlights include the Center's straw bale and cordwood construction, solar and wind battery storage system, composting toilets, rainwater harvesting and year-round food gardens. See For more information on Expo tours and agenda:


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