One more CIPL congregation is utilizing clean and renewable energy.
Here’s their story:
The Mt Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church is located in Walnut Creek, CA. It has about 415 members and an annual budget of about $650,000. In late July 2011 we realized that the Federal grant for solar power would expire at the end of the year, and if we wanted to achieve our long time goal of installing solar panels we had to move quickly.
There were several steps required: determine the size of the system, select an installer, find a source of funding, get support from the finance committee and board, and receive congregational approval.
From the preliminary proposals of several local solar installers, the task force selected three finalists. We interviewed them in person, and vetted them by inquiries to their suppliers and customers. We then selected our preferred candidate for final negotiations, based largely on their bid price. In the end, we selected SunLogic.
We found that roof mounting was cheaper, and less susceptible to vandalism and theft. Different solar panels have differing efficiencies – more expensive ones produce more power. Because we generate power during peak periods when electricity prices are high ($.30/kWh), and use power on the weekends when prices are low ($.12/kWh), we didn’t need to replace all of our current usage. Also, we were in the process of increasing the efficiency of our lighting and other uses. We don’t want to generate more electricity dollars than we use, as excess power has a very small value. We ended up putting SunPower panels on all of the sloping roofs with south and west exposure. The 37kWh system will generate about eighty percent of our consumption. The cost of the system was just over $200,000.
We scheduled a congregation meeting in November, and two open conversations to present the proposal and answer questions. Our messages were clear: The benefits of this project were that it could help us publicly live our values, and protect us from likely long-term electric rate hikes. We explained the cash-flow-neutral financing would increase our debt, but not our expenses, as the payments would be essentially the same as our utility bills.
It turned out that the biggest hurdle was to find a lender to own the system, as the church was not eligible for the grant as it is a non-profit. Many lenders were not interested in owning the system, or were unwilling to lend to a church. With the assistance of the installer we found a lender who provided cash flow neutral funding. We had to assume the risk of the grant not being received.
The financing agent, Belvedere Equipment Finance, is an intermediary, with the actual investment provided by a bank. Because the bank would receive a 30% rebate of their investment in a few months, they were willing to offer a very low interest rate. The paperwork was fairly straight-forward, but we had it reviewed by an attorney in our congregation.
At this time, the PG&E rebate on solar PV has been reinstated and we have applied, but we don’t know the amount or whether we will receive it.
The task force met almost every week for several months to develop the proposals. Others from the Board, Building Committee and Finance Committee also spent time. The system is now generating, and we can monitor it on the web. The financing commits us to a 5% per year increase in electricity cost, and this year the PG&E rate increase will only be 1.8%. We really won’t see the benefits until year thirteen when we own the system. There are real savings but they are far in the future, when the power generated is essentially free. However, the benefits to the environment start now, and represent our commitment to preserving our planet.
January 12, 2012