An energized church: Lincoln Township church installs solar panels in back yard

By Tony Wittkowski | Business Reporter | The Herald-Palladium

STEVENSVILLE — There’s a church in Lincoln Township that reaps its power from the sun in an effort to become sustainable.

The Berrien Unitarian Universalist Fellowship at 4340 Lincoln Ave. installed a solar electric system to generate most of the electricity the small church needs to operate.

The 6.2-kilowatt, ground-mounted system was installed by Four Elements Energy and is the first grid-connected solar electric system to be granted a building permit in Lincoln Township.

Harvey Johnson, BUUF’s treasurer, said it is the church’s latest effort to make its fellowship more green.

“It just seemed like an exciting next step in being green,” Johnson said. “We are on a campaign to become a designated green sanctuary.”

This green designation is given by the Unitarian Universalist Association to UUA churches and fellowships that incorporate stewardship for the earth into religious education projects, worship and celebration projects, sustainable living projects and environmental justice actions.

At the 2015 annual meeting in June, Johnson said the church’s board voted to begin the process of becoming a green sanctuary by investing in the solar system to generate their own electricity.

“We wanted to kick off our green sanctuary campaign with a tangible demonstration of our commitment to environmental stewardship,” Johnson said. “We hope to complete the green sanctuary program requirements and become accredited by 2017.”

There are 250 accredited UUA green sanctuaries in the U.S., out of about 1,000 UUA congregations.

Johnson did his due diligence and got estimates for the system during the winter of 2015. With construction beginning in June and ending in October, Johnson said it will take an estimated 20 years before the costs are offset.

The church capped the project off by renting a ditch digger before burying a conduit cable, which stretches from the solar panels to the meter connected to the house.

Tom Hackley, another church member, said they have been talking about buying solar panels for several years.

Until the church bought the solar panels, Hackley said members have made various energy-efficient changes, like installing CFL bulbs in the building.

“The step of going to a full-fledge photo voltaic system is an expensive undertaking,” he said. “It didn’t seem like a feasible option because we are not that big of a church. But one of our members passed away and left a sizeable chunk of money to the church. It took us a while just to decide if and what we might want to do with that money.”

With about 30 members, Johnson said it cost the church about $22,000.

Breaking it down

The solar photo voltaic system is unseen from the road, but large from up close.

Measuring at 70 feet long, there are 20 310-watt panels – each weighing about 40 pounds in a linear ground-mount arrangement – which together has a 6.2-kilowatt total output capacity.

The pieces come from different stretches across the globe.

The panels were made in Singapore by R.E.C., a Norwegian company. The 7,000-watt German SMA inverter was assembled in Denver. The racks and posts were made by Patriot Solar Group in Albion.

Johnson said they were inspired to install the solar panels to the church because of one of the seven principles members try to live by.

“We’re hoping to generate close to 100 percent of our annual energy requirements, including operating the heat pump,” Johnson said. “No electricity generation data has been created yet, since we are not yet officially on the grid. When we begin generation, the data will be logged and placed online on our website with about a 15-minute time delay.”

BUUF is holding an open house for the public to learn about the solar electric system from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday. Refreshments will be served and a dedication celebration will take place at 1 p.m.

Contact Tony Wittkowski at twittkowski@TheHP.com or (269) 932-0358. Follow him on Twitter: @tonywittkowski.

(Author’s Note: This article was originally published on Oct. 29, 2015)

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