Those considering solar power for churches, temples, mosques, and other houses of worship are discovering that installations are getting both easier and cheaper. Since 2009, costs for non-residential solar installations have dropped around 73%.
Solar Power for Churches is Trending
In Minnesota, roughly 400 congregations are working with Minnesota Interfaith Power and Light (MNIPL), a faith-based nonprofit concerned with climate change and environmental stewardship. Twenty Minnesota churches completed their transition to solar power in 2016.
Joel Norton, a member of St. Christopher’s Green Team, says that the church worked with a local solar installer, applied for a federal tax rebate program, and took advantage of the Made in Minnesota solar incentive program.
In Roseville, St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church also completed it’s solar rooftop installation last year. The church secured $119,000 in funding for the project through federal and state programs, and worked with a local solar installer. To date, the panels have saved 35 tons of CO2 from entering our atmosphere, and also importantly, the church has “significantly reduced the monthly electric bill.”
St. Christopher’s team designed the solar panel installation to leave the shape of a cross exposed on the church’s roof. Norton explains that it’s in the hands of the faithful “to preserve God’s creations.”
Community Solar Farms Offer Additional Solutions
At New Life Presbyterian Church in Roseville, the Sustainable Energy Task Force has been researching solar power for churches for several years. Although they haven’t completely given up on installing solar panels on their own building, they are currently constrained by a rooftop covered in shade and compressors. “It’s not a great fit for a solar array,” says Task Force Chair Kate Wolfe-Jenson.
MNIPL’s Nerbonne confirms that most organizations want on-site solar panels. However, as in New Life Presbyterian’s case, a share in a community solar farm is often the next best solution. With its new contract for community solar, New Life Presbyterian will lock in the benefits of clean, renewable solar power for the next 25 years without taking on all the costs of an on-site installation.
Andy Stahlman, a sales representative for Innovative Power Systems (IPS) in Roseville, MN, is working with around 10 faith communities, including New Life Presbyterian. He explains, “when IPS contracts with a faith community or other nonprofit, it owns the solar power system, so nonprofits don’t pay out of pocket and the developer receives both federal tax rebates and part of the organization’s electric bill credit.”
“Tons and Tons of Faith Communities Doing Solar”
An additional bill credit especially relating to solar power for churches, faith-based organizations, and other nonprofits may be approved in March 2017, by the Public Utilities Commission.
In St. Paul, a group of around 8 faith communities have a dream of building a community solar garden in the east metro region.
MNIPL’s Nerbonne explains that MNIPL is working with the church leaders on the details of location and financing. They are waiting for the Public Utilities Commission’s decision in March before applying to the state for funding and other incentives.
Nerbonne notes, “Between looking for the best deal and understanding how the financing works, transitioning to solar can feel daunting.” However, she explains, “All of a sudden, the market has come into balance where now, even without big incentives like Made in Minnesota, it’s worth it for these congregations.”
She adds, “Low-income faith organizations historically have written off solar power as an option for only the rich, but they shouldn’t.”
In fact, interest in community solar power for churches and other faith groups is on the rise as an inspirational solution to transitioning to clean energy. In 2016, Nerbonne states, “More than two dozen faith groups have expressed interest in community solar.”
“I think we are just on the brink of tons and tons of faith communities doing solar,” says Nerbonne, adding, “I think we have literally just begun.”
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