First United Presbyterian Church

Solar Energy at First United Presbyterian Church 

by James Moore

The Earth Care Task Force was started in 2013 at FUPC, and in 2023 we received our 9th consecutive recertification as an Earth Care Congregation of the Presbyterian Church, USA. We are a Task Force of the Session of FUPC, and we have been active in finding ways that our church can improve the environment and help protect God’s wonderful creation. We do not have a budget, but work through various committees or ministries, particularly through Properties – encouraging installation of energy efficient HVAC systems, encouraging changing to LED lighting wherever possible, encouraging purchase of environmentally friendly supplies, encouraging recycling, and think of many other areas, including education and worship. We have a Solar Array on the south facing roof of the Calvin Building and it sits silently and unobtrusively doing its work since 2015. Some highlight points:

  • After a year of study and planning, we presented to Session a proposal from Richter Solar Energy for the installation of a 52 panel array of 275 watt solar panels to be installed on Calvin and would be tied to the SWEPCO grid through appropriate inverters and wiring for a total price of $39,788.00. Session approved the plan, and installation was started and completed in November and early December, 2015.  The estimated annual energy production was 20, 306 kWh (kilowatt hour is the standard unit of power production—if you look at your home electric bill you are charged by kilowatt hour usage). It was estimated that this would save the church $186 per month for an annual savings of $2,233 per year. 
  • The earth Care Task Force members put $10,000.00 towards the project, and Session moved funds from a capital fund of $29,788.00 with the understanding that an incentive from SWEPCO of approximately $11,000.00 would be paid back when received—25% when completed and 75% after documenting production after 1year. After receiving the SWEPCO incentives, $11, 877 was paid back to the church, leaving the total Session investment of $17,911.00. These figures of the incentive could be off slightly but are a part of the record. 
  • Since installation, after 7 years of production and part of 2023, the solar panels have produced 141,700 kWh of power. The cost of electricity has steadily increased since 2015 from around $0.10 per kWh to $0.1687(the average of December, 2022 and January, 2022). For the entire 12 month of 2022, the average cost was $0.14748 per kWh—rates vary by month). If we average the cost of a kilowatt hour over the past 7 years, we could estimate $0.13 per kWh. If we saved an average of $0.13/kWh X 141,700 kWh = $18,421.00. The panels have saved enough by now to replace the church’s original investment.
  • Using a full year’s production for 2022, our solar panels produced 19,200 kWh of energy, and our actual cost of electricity plus fees and taxes from SWEPCO was $0.14748/kWh, means we are now saving $2,898.81 per year—more than the estimated $2,233 when we were planning. This is because of the increased value of each kilowatt hour we produce.
  • For the full year 2022, our solar panels produced 19,200 kWh and we had total electrical usage of 172,000 kWh as documented by SWEPCO, meaning we are producing 11.14 % of the total electrical usage of the entire FUPC campus. Since we have installed large, energy efficient Daikin electrical heat pump systems, our electrical usage should have increased over the past 5 years, but our total electrical usage went down from 192,000 kWh in 2015 to 172,000 kWh in 2022. Since we added the Sanctuary Daikin electric heat pump system near the end of 2022, our electricity usage should go up, but the gas usage will go down again.
  • The REC Solar Modules have a 10 year 90% power warranty, and a 25 year 80% power warranty. We can expect many more years of electrical power production from our panels!
  • There are a number of calculators online that can provide interesting statistics such as how much CO2 that 141,000 kWh of solar production has been prevented from entering the atmosphere that would have if that amount of energy had been produced by fossil fuels. According to the EPA Calculator, our solar panels have prevented 111 tons of CO2 from entering the atmosphere since 2015.
  • We have inquired each year, but SWEPCP has not had another incentive program for solar installations that we are aware of. We have not studied the present cost of solar panels and installation, but it would be interesting to know what the total picture might be. We have an identical south sloping roof surface on Knox, and we planned ahead to have heavy enough wiring going from the Lower Calvin Mechanical Room to the Utility pod to handle another array like the Calvin array which would save money for that part of the wiring cost.
  • The cost of electricity seems to be increasing each year, but we can produce more from the sun’s rays that strike the Knox Building and could be useful to us and healthier for the planet. It appears that the $2,898.81 that the present panels are saving on our electric bill might could be “rolled forward” to be part of another leg of our journey of our church as we sail towards 200 years.

Respectfully submitted,

James Moore, Member of Earth Care Task Force

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