Solar energy offers a number of benefits and opportunities for churches, non-profits, and homes of worship. These include lower utility bills, saving money on community outreach programs, and setting a positive example for the community.
But not all churches can afford to go solar on their own. Fortunately, some financing arrangements are available.
- Lower Utility Bills
For many places of worship, electric bills can be a major concern. Churches, synagogues, and mosques often have large indoor spaces that require a lot of power for lighting, heating, and cooling. In this era of decreased giving, these institutions seek ways to lower their operating costs without cutting services.
One way to help churches and other non-profits reduce energy costs is by installing a solar panel system. A variety of financing and equipment options are available, allowing you to choose the one that best fits your organization’s budget and energy needs.
If you’re a nonprofit, you can even take advantage of certain incentive programs, such as tax credits and rebates. This can make the initial investment in installing a solar system a worthwhile venture.
Another option is to partner with a solar installer to secure financing for your installation. In this arrangement, you don’t pay for the entire installation upfront; instead, you pay for it over time based on the energy your system generates. This type of arrangement is called a power purchase agreement and is common with residential solar installations.
This approach can be a great solution for churches and other places of worship that don’t have the capital to install their own solar panels. In this case, a third-party company will own and operate the solar panels and then sell the power generated to the customer at a price that is lower than the cost of utility power.
For churches and other non-profits, this type of arrangement is a perfect fit because it allows them to save money on their energy bills while also setting a positive example for the community by reducing their environmental impact. In addition, many solar companies will allow their customers to lock in affordable rates for the solar system’s life.
In fact, a recent project at New Life Christian Center in Novato, California, reduced their electric bill by almost 93% and has lowered their carbon footprint by more than half. In this situation, the savings they’ve achieved have been used to provide more funding for outreach projects and mission work.
- Save Money on Community Outreach Programs
Churches often need to spend large amounts of money on utility bills – and that money could be used to fund other important church activities, like your Food Pantry. Installing solar can help offset utility costs, freeing up funds for your community outreach programs and making raising donations for the church easier.
Moreover, your church may be able to receive an income tax credit for the solar installation. This can significantly increase the amount of money you receive to support your church’s community outreach efforts.
When churches go solar, they also demonstrate to the community that they care about reducing their carbon footprint and want to be an example for others in their area. This can attract new members to the congregation and encourage participation in community events.
One of the most popular ways churches can get a solar installation is through a third-party company. These companies secure investors to cover up-front costs for the system and then sell the energy generated back to the church at a rate that is lower than what it would pay on the wider electricity grid.
This is a particularly appealing option for faith organizations, which typically have low cash reserves and cannot afford the up-front costs of installing their own solar panels. Unlike untaxed churches, these third-party companies can take advantage of lucrative renewable energy tax credits to make the upfront costs more manageable.
A church must qualify as a nonprofit or not-for-profit entity to be eligible for a power purchase agreement. In addition, the church must use the energy it generates in its facilities, such as a church office.
Fortunately, many states in the South have policies that allow for these types of third-party ownership structures. Just seven, including North Carolina, do not permit them. Regardless of what the state courts decide, Johnson says, he will continue to advocate for the church’s solar panel system.
The solar program that has helped Faith Community Church save an estimated $2,000 a year in utility bills is part of a larger effort to bring solar to the Southeast. In addition to lowering utility costs, it has helped church leaders meet their carbon reduction goals and has enabled them to focus more on their charitable work in the local community.
- Set a Positive Example for the Community
Southern states have long relied on the oil industry for economic development, but solar power has the potential to completely transform their economies by delivering an affordable source of clean electricity. As a result, the solar industry is experiencing unprecedented job growth in the South.
In the US, the southern states have some of the best climates for solar production, thanks to their year-round sunlight. However, these states have been slowly diversifying their energy sources due to policy barriers preventing distributed generation from expanding and delivering meaningful bill savings to consumers.
To address this issue, the Southern Environmental Law Center has focused on advancing policies that unlock solar energy for all residents in the South. This includes reducing barriers for renters and homeowners of all income levels, helping low- and moderate-income households save on their utility bills, and accessing rooftop solar installations.
As a member of WRI’s National Community Solar Partnership, we are working to help utilities and communities expand their programs that deliver the most benefits for customers and their local economies. These projects and programs include greater household electricity bill savings, more access for low- and moderate-income households, resilience and grid benefits, community ownership and wealth building, equitable workforce development, and community engagement and impact innovation.
For example, in Kentucky, WRI has advanced a partnership between electric utilities and the philanthropic organization Kentucky Habitat for Humanity to pilot a gifting program that allows low-income customers to pay for their community solar subscriptions with a philanthropic grant. This approach has already shown promise in accelerating the deployment of community solar programs in targeted geographies and is an excellent model for other states.
Another way utilities can make participation accessible to families on a budget is by offering a bundled rate. This approach allows customers to enroll in the solar program at a lower cost and then receive a credit on their electric bill for the amount of electricity they generate through their community solar project.
A community-based organization can play an important role in engaging low- and moderate-income customers through door-to-door outreach, local meetings, and dissemination of informational materials. For example, UPROSE in Brooklyn has helped develop a community solar project on the roof of an Army Terminal that is expected to deliver bill savings to about 200 households.
- Reduce Your Carbon Footprint
If you are interested in reducing your carbon footprint, solar panels might be the perfect option. Not only do they save money on your utility bills, but they also help fight climate change by avoiding the release of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.
The carbon footprint of generating one kilowatt-hour (kWh) of electricity using solar power is about 41 grams of CO2 equivalents, which is equal to the weight of a medium-sized chicken egg. This is 12 times less than a similar number of emissions produced by natural gas and 20 times less than coal.
As the world continues to transition away from fossil fuels, it is crucial for the country to increase our reliance on clean and renewable sources of energy. Solar technology represents an exciting opportunity for the United States to move closer to a zero-carbon future, as solar energy production does not produce any emissions during its operation.
While there is no silver bullet to reducing carbon emissions, the most efficient way to do so is through increased use of renewable energy, particularly solar. In California, renewables represent a major piece of the state’s climate action plan and have played a critical role in reducing greenhouse gases.
Another major component of the state’s green strategy is its Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS), which requires utilities to get 60 percent of their electricity from renewable sources by 2030. In addition to increasing the percentage of energy produced from renewables, the RPS also encourages efficiency measures that can reduce the consumption of natural resources and bolster our resilience to climate change.
In fact, according to a report released in December 2018, the best way for California to meet its clean energy goals is to boost the number of homes and businesses that install rooftop solar systems. The report found that those who did so were able to cut annual greenhouse gas pollution by about 6 million metric tons in 2018 from 2009 levels – about the same as taking 1.3 million cars off the road.