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April 21, 2011
Paul Gipe

Protecting Creation: Solar PV at Religious Institutions Driven by Feed-in Tariffs


Lutheran church in Schoenau protecting creation in Germany's Black Forest.

April 21, 2011

By Paul Gipe

One powerful advantage of feed-in tariff policies for developing renewable energy is that they permit the participation of people from all walks of life. You do not have to be Florida Power & Light to build a solar plant on your rooftop.

There's no better example of this than congregations who use feed-in tariff policy to fulfill their faith's injunction to protect creation by installing a solar photovoltaic (PV) system on or near their church, synagogue, or mosque.

 


Update April 26, 2011: Since this article was originally posted I've been contacted by several congregations in North America explaining how they've used feed-in tariffs to install solar systems in their community. See the links below for these additions.


Though the process is just getting underway in Ontario, where their sophisticated system of feed-in tariffs was implemented in the fall of 2009, several religious institutions have announced plans to build solar installations or have already done so.

On a trip to Toronto in November, 2010, I saw the first examples of this at Trinity College on the University of Toronto campus and at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist Church in east Toronto. Trinity College, University of Toronto 58 kW solar PV system.

The Trinity College installation is unique for several reasons. It was the idea of creative and determined students who wanted to install solar PV, because it was the right thing to do, and because they wanted to use the revenues from the project to pay for a student bursary (scholarship). The students were stymied because under the government policy at the time, solar PV wasn't paid enough to make the project worthwhile.

The students needed feed-in tariffs that were based on the cost of generating electricity with solar PV in the size range anticipated for the Trinity College building. It was only after passage of Ontario's Green Energy Act and the implementation of a system of Advanced Renewable Tariffs that the project could move forward--long after the students had graduated.

The 58 kW Trinity College project was installed by a local firm and financed by Carbonfree Technology, whose chief executive was a graduate of the school. The cost of the solar PV system was paid for with donations from alumni and, as originally conceived, the revenue from the system is used for a student bursary.

 

The 20.9 kW project at the Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist church is also novel. Half the $220,000 cost of the project was raised through donations and the issuance of debentures to friends and supporters, and the other half covered by an interest-free loan from the City of Toronto. The parish may eventually expand the project to 43 kW.

Neighborhood Unitarian Universalist church in Toronto, Ontario with  solar PV sytstem. Since these projects were installed, a number of other congregations across Ontario have announced similar plans. The most dramatic proposal is that of the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre near Niagara Falls.

The Catholic monastery and retreat center plans an initial 100 kW rooftop solar PV system followed by a massive 1.4 MW groundmounted project. Financing for the project will follow the philanthropic model, as with the Trinity College installation. Donations will be used to pay for the panels at Mount Carmel, and the revenue generated will be used to support the retreat centre's programs.

Says Father Stanley Makacinas, "Solar power fits with our theology. . . to be stewards of creation and to protect it."

 

Display panel at Lutheran church in Schoenau shows output of solar array  as a window on creation.

Of course, it's not just Ontario. Germany's Lutheran church officially encourages its member churches' installing solar systems, as seen in the village of Schönau in the Black Forest. In 2006, there were 700 Lutheran churches that had installed solar PV systems. There are probably many more now.

And the Anglicans in England are moving quickly to renewable energy, since the country's adoption of feed-in tariffs in 2010.

Ontario

  • Windsor Star: Windsor Islamic centre to produce solar power--A new solar project on the roof the Rose City Islamic Centre has the potential to produce enough electricity to power 250 homes in the surrounding neighbourhood. . .
  • Ottawa Citizen: Churches harness power sent from above--Across the city, churches have seen the light. It is, indeed, heavenward. It's the sun. As many as a dozen churches, of many denominations, are investigating the installation of solar-power plants, mostly on their roofs, as a way to exercise their faith while feeding a thinning treasury. . .
  • Solar Faith Initiative of Greening Sacred Spaces--Faith & the Common Good has developed a solar presentation called "Going Solar: How your faith community FITs in!" This presentation covers an overview of solar technology, financing options, incentives & rebates, information on the Ontario Green Energy Act, and the MicroFIT (Feed-In-Tarriff) program. The solar workshop is designed for a number of faith communities to come together to plan and discuss solar action in their region. . .
  • Mennonite Initiative for Solar Energy (MISE) of the Mennonite Central Committee of Ontario--MCC Ontario is pleased with the recent addition of Faith-Based Organizations to the eligibility list for the MicroFIT program. . .
  • Hillcrest Mennonite Church Solar Open House--Hillcrest's journey to the present day with a 9.87kilo-Watt ground-mounted tracking solar panel began back in early 2009 with the announcement of the Ontario Feed-In-Tariff (FIT) program that would purchase the energy created by solar panels at a rate of 80.2 cents per kilo-watt-hour for 20 years. (the rate for ground-mounted panels under 10kW has since been adjusted to 64.2 cents per kWh). Rob saw this as a chance for his church to lead by example in 'going green'. . .
  • Faith Mennonite Church Solar Project--An informational blog to discuss the possiblity of installing a roof-top mounted solar panel system on Faith Mennonite Church in Leamington, Ontario. . .
  • Mount Carmel looks to the sun for energy--As a young monastic superior, Stan Makacinas would walk the grounds at the Mount Carmel Spiritual Centre and marvel at its beauty and rich history. . . "I always thought our roofs were perfect for solar power," he said. . .
  • London Free Press: Church follows the light--Richards Memorial United Church plans to plug in its cross-shaped solar array Wednesday . . .

    Gainesville, Florida

  • University of Florida Hillel Jewish Student Center--50 kW system installed under Gainesville Regional Utilities' solar feed-in tariff.

    Great Britain

  • The Guardian: Simplicity and sustainability: Inside Stanbrook Abbey, the new eco-friendly nunnery--Located in the North York Moors national park, the £4.7m building features solar panels to provide hot water, a woodchip boiler, rainwater harvesting for laundry and toilet flushing and a roof covered in sedum grass to insulate the building and attract local wildlife. . .
  • Plans unveiled for church to become first in region to be solar powered--The 50-strong congregation at St Andrew's in Epworth is hoping to provide an enlightened example of how to produce low-cost electricity. . . And the move could create the most sacred solar panels in North Lincolnshire. . .
  • Greening the Meeting House - the story of Cotteridge Local Quaker Meeting--In October the EU ruled that in cases like ours the Feed In Tariff could be paid and we registered with British Gas for our FiT. We hope to earn around £3,000 annually. Results: We expect to generate at least 5,000 kWh in 2010. This will be 28% of the 2009 usage and will make a total saving from 2004 of 77%. . .

    Germany

    Below is just a sampling of churches in Germany using solar energy and the ecumenical movement toward renewable energy.

  • Strom aus der Sonne: Leitfaden zur Photovoltaik für Kirchengemeinden in Rheinland-Pfalz--Brochure in German by the German Lutheran Church of Rhineland-Palatinate. . .
  • Mit Solarenergie in die Zukunft!--Description in German of solar PV installations of the German Lutheran Church of Ulm-Wiblingen. . .
  • Fotovoltaikanlage im Michaelbezirk--Description of the German Luthern Church of Langendreer's rooftop solar system in German. . .
  • Strom Rebels of Schönau: The Village That Built Their Own Solar Utility--Alt is something of a rebel himself. With books provocatively titled "The Ecological Jesus" and "War over Oil or Peace through the Sun," to name just a few, he's part of an ecumenical movement in Germany that seeks to fulfill the biblical injunction to "protect creation". . .

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