Lakewood OH

Rocky River church brings solar panels to light




Solar panels are positioned on the roof of the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church.

ROCKY RIVER – Members of the West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church are hoping to be guided by heavenly light – or at least use it to curb energy costs.

Finalizing an effort begun nearly four years ago, workers in late August began to install a solar panel array on the roof of the Hilliard Boulevard church. The 198 panels are expected to produce an estimated 70,000 kilowatt hours annually, or about 20 percent of the church’s electricity needs. Besides the sanctuary, the church has a child care center and a full schedule of evening and weekend activities, church officials said.

“Once it’s inspected by the city, then we’ll notify the Illuminating Company and we’ll be set to go,” said church member Tom Smith, who has spearheaded the project. YellowLite Solar of Cleveland installed the panels.

Smith said donations covered the system’s $136,000 cost. Sponsorship of a panel was set at $650 each. “We’re especially proud of the students in our 6th and 7th grade Sunday School class who held a pancake breakfast to raise the cost of one panel.” Smith said.

In addition to the students’ contribution, 62 other donations were made.

According to the Environment Ohio Research and Policy Center, clean energy policies such as Ohio’s Senate Bill 221, and federal clean air acts are cutting carbon emissions, what has been cited as a major cause of climate change. The report showed that since 2007 federal and state policies have reduced carbon pollution by at least 4.7 million metric tons, comparable to annual emissions from nearly one million cars. ( .

Even with the current federal administration’s attitude toward energy conservation, Fida Aziz, YellowLite Solar project manager, said that his firm nearly doubles its job orders every three to four years.

“The trend is significant,” he said “By harnessing solar power, churches and commercial businesses are bolstering their positive effect on their communities.”

Smith recalled that the road to more efficient energy has not been easy. The original design called for a 300 kilowatt array on a large canopy over the parking lot, which the city’s planning commission rejected based on maintenance and aesthetic issues. A second proposal for an awning on the back of the church to support solar panels was approved by the commission with the stipulation that it be screened from neighboring homes by a row of eight foot tall arborvitae bushes.

“We could only find 10 to 12 foot arborvitae, and it also got to be more and more problematic to (attach) the awning to the south wall of the church,” Smith said.

“In the end, we decided to see what we could get on the flat part of the roof,” said Smith. He added that panels, held in place by concrete weights, were also installed on the curved portion of the sanctuary roof, with a minimal amount of roof penetration.

Smith, who has a background in engineering, said that YellowLite gave the church a significant break on the cost of the system, which is worth more than double, in part due to his own contributions, including a “shadow study,”where he took pictures on the church roof to determine the amount of sun received by each section during the day.

Smith added that the delays turned into a blessing as technology has changed over three years, making the solar panels more efficient.

Some churches, such as the First Unitarian Universalist Church in Shaker Heights, participated in a “power purchase agreement” to fund their solar array, one of the first in the area in 2012. Under this program, a second party, in the case of the Shaker Church, Solar Action of Cleveland, owns the set up with the option of selling or donatingir the array to the church in about 10 to 15 years. There was no charge for design and installation to the church.

“We decided it wasn’t worth it,” said Smith of his congregation’s decision to fund the project themselves. “We wanted it paid for and done,” he said, adding that future state legislation regarding alternative energy is cloudy, spurring the quick pay off.

While the Rocky River church’s array is expected to produce 20 percent of its total power, Erin Justice, of the First Church in Shaker Heights, said their set-up supplies 80 percent to 90 percent of thier church’s electric needs. The array, consisting of 380 panels, is located on a canopy over a portion of the parking area.

“The city totally supported this green initiative,” said Justice, adding that the work inspired other businesses in the city to go solar.

However, Smith pointed out that the east-side church does not have a child care center, therefore lessening the need for power.

He added that it’s not about how much solar power is generated, but the contribution to the “greater good” and the church’s environmental mission.

The solar incentive is part of an environmental and conservation movement began in 2006 by Unitarian congregations throughout the country called “Ministry for the Earth.” Now “Green Sanctuary,” it has grown so large that it is managed by the Unitarian Universalist headquarters in Boston.

“It’s been a tough experience introducing something this big and this new to an area not used to it. I can understand the pushback,” said Smith. However, he said he was supported throughout the effort by several homeowners who have installed solar panels.

NOTE: The West Shore Unitarian Universalist Church will participate in Green Energy Ohio’s statewide open house of businesses and homes featuring solar power from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Sept. 30 and I p.m. to 4 p.m. Oct. 1




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