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Sault United Church believes solar panels will attract younger members

Sault Star | By Jeffrey Ougler

Generating power and raising revenue plug nicely into the plan.

But the solar panels now adorning East Korah Maxwell United Church’s roof mean something more: a message the church is enlightened, a quality leaders there hope might prompt more young people to rise and shine on Sunday mornings.

“There were a number of (reasons) … financially, obviously, was one of them, but we also wanted to look as though we are progressively thinking and looking toward the future,” said Lorri Sawchyn, a board member at the Fourth Line East church.

“And we also want to do something to help the environment because, if you can, why not.”

Thirty-somethings Lorri and her husband, Trevor, who have two small children, are some of the youngest members of the congregation, which numbers about 60 during peak attendance periods.

“You want to look as open thinking as much as you can,” said Trevor.

“And one of the things solar does for you is it’s green … It is viewed as being progressive and is viewed as being a little more optimistic about the church’s future and a little more of a forward-thinking congregation and board that might be attractive to some of the younger people.”

East Korah Maxwell United is the first regional church to go solar — the concept has already gathered ground in southern Ontario — and the Sawchyns say other area religious facilities may soon follow suit.

It’s not necessarily surprising a United Church would adopt an environmentally friendly enterprise given the church’s progressive views on green, as well as social, issues.

But old Presbyterian principles still hold a prime place in the church’s psyche, such as an abiding respect for money and a profound distaste for waste.

Lorri said these factors were in mind when the church looked to the sky as a means of bolstering revenue.

“If you can make money in the meantime doing it, then it certainly makes sense,” she added.

“And you’re not doing anything exciting with (roofs), so you might as well use them.”

Trevor said churches that rely heavily on collections and “people being in the pews” often shoulder a dip in revenue over the summer when members go to the cottage “or it’s too hot to be at church — all those other good reasons (to be away).”

But that’s also when solar profits are maximized.

“So, it’s helping offset (decreased) cash flow when the church needs it the most,” he added.

“And that is really helping to add to the sustainability of the church. It gives them more of an optimistic look. You still have to pay your bills, you still have to pay (for) your electricity, you still have to pay your minister, but you don’t have the incoming cash flow from other fundraising events and other stuff — they just don’t happen in the summer. This helps augment that when you need it.”

Lorri brought the solar panel prospect to the church’s board about a year ago.

“I told them, ‘This is just is something we could look at to make an additional income to help with our bottom line,’ ” she said.

The congregation then gave its blessing.

“Our bottom line is doing fine, but if you can make money off your roof, then why not?”

East Korah Maxwell United inked a 20-year contract with Ontario Power Authority, which guarantees the church a certain rate per kilowatt hours generated.

The panel package, purchased from and installed by Solar Logix, for which Trevor is a project manager, cost $70,000, which came exclusively from the Sault Ste. Marie’s church’s coffers, specifically its building fund, only accessible for capital projects.

“We felt we should take some money out of that and invest in something that’s giving us the return, which is significantly higher than, say, a savings account,” Lorri said.

“When you’re looking at like 2% interest on a savings account and 14% return on an investment on the solar panels, it was pretty much a given.”

The church expects to have the panels paid off in seven years and income — estimates ring in at about $10,000 annually — will be taxed.

Two programs were available to the church: microfit and fit. It opted for the former, which offers a maximum 10-kilowatt production.

“Basically, the microfit program pays better rates than the fit program does,” Lorri said.

“So we could have had more panels up there, we could have gotten a bigger system, but with a microfit program, they cap it out at 10-kilowatt production.”

The idea was to maximize as much south-facing roof of the relatively small, wooden structure as possible, as panels there are most productive.

“The slope on this is not that great, so you can still get great production on your east/west-facing surfaces in order to (provide) returns for the church and make them as much money as they can on their investments,” Trevor said.

Courtesy: The Sault Star

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