New Mexico church begins solar panel installation on Earth Day
Over the next 25 years, the United Church of Santa Fe United Church of Christ will save 30 million gallons of water and 50,000 gallons of gasoline, take the equivalent of 105 vehicles off the road, and provide the carbon dioxide sequestration of 13,000 trees. This Earth Day, Wednesday, April 22, the church in Santa Fe, N.M., breaks ground on the 44-panel solar array that will allow the congregation to accomplish all of this and more as the church begins generating its own electricity using nothing but the clean, renewable desert sunshine.
“We are moving ahead and thought Earth Day would be a good day to get started,” said the Rev. Talitha Arnold, pastor of United Church of Santa Fe. “Not only does this project save energy, but the amount of water being saved from coal energy production, trees being saved, all of that is phenomenal.”
Members of United Church of Santa Fe, a certified GreenFaith congregation, have discussed the possibility of installing solar panels for the past few years and last year appointed a Solar Task Force to delve deeper into the issue. After extensive research, the church decided to install the panels on the roof of a carport in its lower parking lot, rather than on the roof of the building, and then hook up the system to the main electrical system of the church. This will further extend the life of the building’s current roof, which, at 17 years old, is still in fairly good condition, and make the system easier to maintain. The carport will create a few additional parking spaces, and will also have charging stations for hybrid and electric vehicles. Arnold estimates that the project should be complete in about a month.
“Solar panels have a long life, estimated 40 years. That’s twice the lifetime of roofs,” Arnold explained. “A carport system means that when we need to re-roof, we won’t also need to remove the ballast system or remove the ballasted panels if the roof leaks.
“Also, with the panels visible on the carport, rather than on the roof, hopefully the church would remember to take care of them,” she added.
The total cost of the project is $80,000, and the church has so far collected $55,000, mostly from member donations. To raise the additional $25,000, the congregation has initiated a small pledge drive, serving as the first phase of the church’s “Build for the Future” campaign that will include plans for building expansion, landscaping, and endowment development that will officially kick off in 12 to 18 months. The 14.388 kilowatt system is large enough to meet the church’s current electrical needs, and Arnold says they are planning for the possibility of future expansion by creating an “energy endowment,” perhaps by utilizing the money they will save in electricity costs.
“This is not only an investment for the future of the planet, but for the future of the church,” Arnold said. “We don’t know what the future is going to bring, but I and others are very committed to making sure the church has a sustainable building.”
Arnold said her congregation is blessed with a lot of members who believe that caring for the earth is the moral and ethical thing to do, and are supportive of and excited about this project. Instead of the traditional poster that uses a thermometer to track a fundraiser’s progress, United Church of Santa Fe keeps track of donations by adding cells to a poster of its solar array. Now that they’ve seen it can be done, some of the church’s members have even decided to install solar panels on their homes. Arnold hopes United Church of Santa Fe will serve as a model for other churches and institutions that want to do their part to care for the earth, and she encourages groups to “not be afraid to get into it and figure it out.”
“Going solar may not be an option for every church – in certain parts of the country it’s not as feasible as it would be in the desert southwest where we get a lot of sunshine,” Arnold said. “But every church can do something to care for this planet and develop a more sustainable lifestyle.”
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