DEER LODGE, Mont. (AP) — NorthWestern Energy is looking at solar energy to make power more reliable in rural Montana.

The Montana Standard reports (http://bit.ly/1LlQIFP ) that the energy company unveiled its first solar panels in Montana at an event Monday. The panels are located on private property the company is leasing about eight miles north of Deer Lodge.

Northwestern Energy spokesman Butch Larcombe says the panels are connected to a battery pack, which began working last week. The panels will benefit 17 rural residents who live nearby.

The solar panels charge the batteries. When the batteries are full, the excess energy will be delivered to the customers. When a power line goes down in the area, the batteries can provide backup power.

The project cost NorthWestern Energy $600,000.