Sunshine State Interfaith Power & Light is a non-profit organization chartered to promote energy conservation, energy efficiency and renewable energy sources in Florida and beyond. Our goal is to foster environmental justice by protecting the earth’s ecosystem and enhancing public health and welfare for current and future generations through education, advocacy and action. SSIPL is an affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, a national coalition coordinating religious response to climate change.
One Congregation’s Path to Going Solar
Rev. Andy Bell, Director, SSIPL
Lakewood United Methodist Church in St. Petersburg, Florida is currently installing a state of the art solar panel system.
Lakewood United Methodist in Saint Petersburg is now within a matter of days of switching on their 50 panel solar array but the journey to this point started a while back. This community began to recognize that it had either lost touch with or never learned of the deep, rich faith traditions, scriptures, and teachings that require us to be benevolent caretakers of God’s beloved Earth. We started talking about this, inviting and engaging open-hearted people to figure out all the ways we could be the Creation Care stewards we have been called to be. A lot of the congregants already had a heart for the environment but had never connected it with their faith, and for most that has been a very easy connection.
In the years since there has been a greater awareness of the impact we have on all creation with almost everything we do at church, and in our homes and workplaces as well. We started with basic energy conservation, turning off lights, turning up the air conditioners during the summer and heat down in winter – and just plain off whenever possible, which is very possible for several months of the year. Energy sucking incandescent bulbs were replaced with CFL’s and are now being replaced with long life LED’s. T12 fluorescent fixtures continue to be replaced with T8’s.
Trustees have had energy audits performed on all buildings. Insulation, energy efficiency, energy star ratings, water conservation, recycling, consuming less, using less, low/no toxicity chemicals and cleaning products are always considered when changes are made and remodeling done.
Cost was the primary reason many congregations have shied away from solar in the past, but today solar is now less expensive than electricity created by burning coal, a primary source of green house gas and toxic emissions. Over the last five years or so the cost of solar panels has plummeted worldwide. The cost is no longer a viable excuse to not execute a plan to install solar for electricity generation.
Depending on one’s belief system it was divine intervention, fate, timing, great luck, or a combination of all that lead to a conversation with solar engineer Alan Brand, owner of The Solar Shepherd. Alan, a man of deep faith understands that global climate change is the single most important moral issue facing humans and sees solar photovoltaic as the primary solution to green house gas emissions in Florida. Because of his faith, he is creating a business model to help congregations go solar at a very competitive cost and offered to help LUMC if we would be his first test site.
When all the options were considered and numbers crunched, the church’s pastor, Rev. Robert Pearcy along with the trustees and finally a called church conference voted to replace the aging roof on the office building and install a 50 panel, 14.5 KW solar array. This initial step into supplying our own clean, renewable, sustainable electricity should provide over half of all the power use for the sanctuary, office building, and fellowship hall combined. Thoughts of making the entire campus completely net zero are still being considered for a future project.
The church hired the roofing contractor to install the mounting hardware under Alan’s direction after new shingles were in place, and a general contractor to file for the city permit. Then volunteers from Lakewood installed the rails, micro inverters, wiring harness, and panels. The final phase of the install required the general contractor’s electricians to make the wiring run from the array to the breaker box in the office (which will supply all three buildings.)
Next the city will perform the inspection for the final sign off of the permit. Finally, the application packet to interconnect the array to the electrical grid will be sent to the local utility. When all the paperwork meets the utility’s expectations they will then replace the existing power meter with a bidirectional meter. Then, when the breaker is switched on the array will be producing electricity from the sun for decades to come.
This is a condensed version of Andy’s article. The full text is available here: One Congregation’s Path To Going Solar [PDF]
See our Resources page for links to the Environmental Protection Administration’s Energy Star For Congregations program, including a two page FAQ and a detailed guide created for religious organizations implementing a complete energy efficiency program. The benefits of creation care include substantial long term financial savings as well as serving the congregation’s spiritual and outreach responsibilities.