Up on the Roof Top

by George Faulkner, Co-Chair, Building Committee

Up on the Rooftop… Reindeer Paws? No. But even better… solar panels! Many longer time members are aware that we installed solar panels in October 2008, and officially dedicated them in 2009. But unless you fly a drone over our property, newer members and friends might not be aware that we took this important step to support the environment and qualify as a “green sanctuary.” UUCWC’s Earth Ministry team, led at the time by late member Philo Elmer, and strongly encouraged by Minister Emeritus Charles Stephens, spurred the initiative. As explained by former member Mike Dalzell in a blog on the UUA’s Green Sanctuary webpage:

“UUCWC has installed a 9.5-kilowatt solar energy system that allows it to generate about 90 percent of the electricity it uses from the sun…
Almost two thirds of the $76,000 system was funded through the New Jersey Clean Energy Rebate Program, which provides incentives for the use of solar and other renewable energy sources. UUCWC’s endowment fund loaned the remainder of the tab. The system is expected to pay for itself in about four years, and will be productive for at least 25 years…
Photovoltaic cells in the solar panels, installed on the roof of the church, capture sunlight and translate it to direct current (DC). This current is directed into an inverter, which converts it to alternating current (AC) that powers the church. When the system is running at full capacity, excess energy is fed back into the utility’s power grid — causing the electric meter to “spin backward,” resulting in a credit on the church’s electric bill. The system is not equipped with batteries to store excess energy generated during the day.”

When I was the church’s treasurer, I calculated a rough return on investment that showed we recouped our $27,000 cost after 4 years (2009-2012), about 25% of which was from reduced electrical use (i.e., using electricity from the panels) and 75% from selling our generated solar electricity as credits back to the New Jersey power grid.

The value of the solar credits vary over time, based on how many are generated and the need for NJ utility companies to purchase them, as required by state law. At one point, they dropped substantially from about $600/credit to only about $125, and currently are worth about $200. According to our recent treasurer, Lynne Quinto, we received about $2,000 in sold solar credits in each of the past two budget years and spent annually about $7,000 for electricity, meaning we saved 29%. However, since the value of the credits may decline again, we conservatively budgeted for $1400 of solar credit income for the current church year.

The panels should last us several more years. And fortunately, whenever we’ll need to replace them, the costs will have declined substantially from what they were back in 2008. If you are considering looking into solar panels for your home, check out this article, along with information on the PA or NJ websites about any tax incentives and the ability to save by sending electricity back into the electrical grid. Sadly, New Jersey’s credit program is phasing out, since it was set up only to reach a threshold of of getting 5.1% of its energy from solar and will soon hit that threshold. You would still save with solar panels but not as much and the initial recovery of your investment would take longer.