On Thursday December 2nd, 2010 at about 2:30pm the first solar panels were installed on the roof of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead/United Church of Christ. Two days later, the solar installation technicians completed the connections linking the renewable energy source to the electrical supply system. Almost instantly the revolving wheel in the building's electric meter slowed almost to a halt. At that moment, the church facility became a power producer with the potential to generate more electricity than it consumes.
The new solar panels generate approximately 10 kilowatts of electricity and are the major capital outlay among several energy efficiency upgrades the church is implementing in 2010 and 2011. According to the Long Island Power Authority, this solar panel system is expected to reduce the church electrical bill by $200 per month. By replacing light fixtures, installing new insulation and a few other lower cost improvements, South Hempstead church trustees intend to lower energy costs by at least another $100 monthly, or as much as $4000 per year.
The solar panels were installed by a general contractor, with assistance from other local businesses (building auditor, architect, landscaper, etc.]). The panels, installation and related expenses cost just under $65,000. The Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) provided a $35,000 subsidy from its Solar Pioneer Program. After installation and inspection, the rebate check from LIPA will reduce the total expenditure to $30,000. With the anticipated savings, the church will recoup its investment in about 10 years. The solar panels have a 25-year warranty, which means they will pay for themselves several times over.
The economic benefits to the congregation and local economy are evident. The ramifications of this investment are much broader. The church has helped renew the environment by reducing its carbon footprint and helped our country take a small step closer to energy independence. And because the church serves a predominantly minority community, it has created access to the emerging green economy for thousands of low and moderate income families. “Going green” has become a way to increase the effectiveness of prayer, advocacy, and education.
Since 1995 I have served as pastor of the Congregational Church of South Hempstead. This investment, therefore, is personally gratifying because I was able to make the case for green building upgrades to my own faith community. It would be misleading however, to attribute the congregation’s decision to go forward with the pastor’s powers of persuasion. This important step was made possible by the sacrificial giving of a community of working and middle class church folks. They want a cleaner environment, energy independence, and a stronger economy. But more immediately, these folks want to stretch their giving dollars so more of their money goes to ministry and mission. They want the broader community to see that religious faith is more than personal spiritual fulfillment and the celebration of special holidays. For people of faith, “going green” is not a trendy choice. It is a practical way to change the world in ways that reflect our love for humanity and all of creation.