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Solar Power for Faith Communities
Spend any amount of time talking to individuals on the finance or building committees for a church, temple or synagogue, and one item will come up over and over again as a main concern: the roof.
By their nature and design, religious buildings tend to have huge roofs with significant architectural differences from those of the average home or office building, and they always seem to be in need of repairs.
Click to see Video - Solar for Religious Buildings
Members of the green team, First United Church in Owen Sound, hold a solar panel before it is installed on the roof.
Photo courtesy of Bettilyn Berglund
This is one of the reasons that Ontario's MicroFIT (Feed-In-Tariff) program is such a great opportunity for faith communities: it presents a way to turn one of the biggest financial burdens of a religious building (the roof) into a money maker. The MicroFIT program pays competitive prices, which are guaranteed for 20 years, to small-scale generators of clean energy.
The best rate is for roof-mounted solar panels, 80.2¢ per kwh. The ideal roof is slanted about 45° and faces south, which happens to be the case for many religious buildings.
Flat roofs can also hold solar panels on racks tilted to the right angle, and panels can even be mounted on the ground. While the rate paid for a ground-mounted system is lower (64.2¢ per kwh), the cost to install and maintain this type of system is also lower and the payback time is about the same.
Financial sustainability is not the only feature of solar power that appeals to many congregations. The opportunity to contribute to a
greener, healthier planet through renewable energy is a significant motivating factor. Increasingly, religious communities are seeing "being green" as part of their religious calling, an opportunity to live their faith by caring for the earth and by extension the people who live on it.
Some, frustrated by a general lack of action on climate change and other environmental issues, see themselves as leaders in the environmental movement. This echoes comments by David Suzuki in his book The Sacred Balance and numerous lectures, where he voiced his belief that in order for a significant number of people to change their ways and start caring for the earth, religions will need to be involved.
A third benefit seen by many communities when the solar panels start to go up is increased community involvement. Solar panels are a highly visible example of a commitment to care for the environment. When people see this positive and forward-thinking sign, they are more likely to take an interest, and perhaps learn about solar energy themselves.
Richards Memorial United Church in London, ON took this idea a step farther, arranging their solar installation in the shape of a cross. This striking symbol of faith and environmental action has literally stopped traffic!
Solar panels in a cross formation at Richards Memorial United Church in London, Ontario.
Religious communities all over Ontario are taking advantage of the MicroFIT program to produce clean energy, sustainable income and community interest. Some are urban, like Neighbourhood Unitarian congregation in Toronto. This congregation cut the ribbon on their MicroFIT installation in June 2010, helping to earn them a nomination for the Green Toronto Awards that year.
Rural communities are also getting on board, like First United Church in Owen Sound, who completed their installation in the fall of 2010, and the Anglican Parish of Huntley, in Carp, who are currently conducting an engineering study in preparation to mount 10 KW installations on their church hall.
While the initial financial investment in solar can be large, a variety of funding opportunities are available. Most communities rely on a mixture of savings, small loans, donations, grants from funding organizations, and debentures or shares sold to the congregation and/or community.
Anyone interested in learning more about solar power for faith communities is invited to contact Greening Sacred Spaces at 613-851-3193 or to visit www.greeningsacredspaces.net/solar
Kathryn Guindon is the Ottawa Representative for Greening Sacred Spaces, and Eco-spiritual Coordinator for Tucker House Renewal Centre.
- The Ottawa Solar Power Fair is coming to Ottawa City Hall on April 30th! This event will include booths, presentations, and a free bus tour to local solar sites. Visit www.1000solarrooftops.ca for information.
- 1000 Solar Rooftops and Faith & the Common Good are conducting case studies of solar installations, including those on faith buildings.
Last Updated (Tuesday, 19 April 2011 20:08)
The PERC thanks the Ontario Trillium Foundation for their support. The Ontario Trillium Foundation is an agency of the Government of Ontario.