Going Solar

Going solar

September 1, 2010 05:38 PM

A few years ago, it probably seemed like it would never happen. Emanuel Lutheran Church in Pleasantville was exploring installing photovoltaic solar panels on its roof. The price--$190,000--seemed exorbitant. The church would have needed a third-party to finance it. Instead, the congregation’s Environmental Stewardship Committee tightened up its energy use in other ways, insulating the windows, changing light bulbs, and following advice stemming from their NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research and Development Authority) energy audit.


However, they didn’t let go of the idea of going solar, and their timing was good. Within a year, the price of solar panels dropped by more than one-third. In addition, NYSERDA had an incentive at the time to pay 90% of the cost. While solar panels don’t work on every church, Emanuel was an ideal candidate with south and west-facing roofs unobstructed by shadow. It took eight months for the process to be completed: from signing the agreement to installing and testing the panels. The installer, Mercury Solar Systems, took care of the technical details such as submitting drawings and getting the necessary permits; the congregation just had to wait.


In June 2010, contractors covered Emanuel’s roof with 134 panels, each panel being 62" tall and 31" wide. Emanuel is the first congregation in the Metro New York Synod to harness solar power. When the 23.45kw system is operating in the sunshine, the electrical meter actually runs backwards as kilowatts feed back into ConEd’s grid. Emanuel’s annual energy bill is about $6,000; the system can produce about the same amount of electricity annually. So, in the first year, the congregation anticipates having no electric bill.


Now that the panels are installed, they are essentially maintenance-free. The snow should melt right off. They cover the hot black roof, making a barrier, which maintains the surface beneath them. Plus, the panels are guaranteed for 25 years. Initially, there were concerns that members would rather leave the building untouched. "I was shocked by the positive response that we got. Our congregation has been behind us one hundred percent," said Gerry Falco, chairperson of Emanuel’s Environmental Stewardship Committee. "There’s a certain elegance to [the solar panels]. They add to rather than detract from the church."


Pastor Paul Egensteiner agrees. "Now that we see the solar panels actually in place, actually working, they’ve become something we’re very proud of. It sends the message to the community that the church cares about the environment and that we can be on the cutting edge of that care. And the neighborhood has responded very positively." The panels will be dedicated on the congregation’s upcoming Bring-A-Friend Sunday.