Powered by the Son, and the sun
A renewed philosophy is being employed at a historic church in Woodbury.
Backed by an anonymous donor, Woodbury Peaceful Grove United Methodist Church added a 144-panel, $199,000 solar array to four of its building's rooftops.
"These are the latest and greatest, the best that are made," said Jim Tousignant, facilities manager at the church, which has had many additions since 1868, including its steeple in 1885.
The new solar arrays—a 40-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system—are expected to produce about $5,000 a year in energy savings, knocking down about 20 percent of the church's electricity bill.
Using solar power "fits our church values," Tousignant said. "As a church we should look at it as being green and how it goes with the mission."
The move to produce solar energy, initiated the first week of August, is part of an energy savings initiative at the church, as well as a growing trend in Woodbury.
Woodbury Peaceful Grove's system of rooftop arrays is one of six private solar projects erected in Woodbury in 2016, and Blue Horizon Energy's fourth private solar project in Woodbury since 2010.
By more than $130,000, the church's investment is the largest private purchase of a solar array in the city, according to City of Woodbury research back to 2002. Since then, private owners have contracted more than $920,000 of work for 42 local solar-power projects.
Solar energy array construction has picked up since the Minnesota Legislature passed a law to encourage solar thermal projects to the tune of $15 million in rebates during a 10-year period. Twenty-seven local projects began in 2013 or later, after the state created the Made in Minnesota (MiM) Solar Incentive Program.
At Woodbury Peaceful Grove, which is located along Steepleview Road, Xcel Energy is a partner as DC power converts to AC power through inverters on the rooftop, and the power flows through a meter inside the church. The power generated is used by the church.
"First thing we do is use the power we produce," Tousignant said.
Since the church is not a taxpaying entity, the donor—"a friend of the church," Tousignant said—will receive 10 years of tax credits for the installation, easing any burden of such a large donation.
How such a project came to fruition is simple but also complicated, Tousignant said.
Four years ago, Tousignant, 54, started an energy savings initiative at the church, to save energy and maintenance costs. He found the historic building lacks insulation, he changed lightbulbs and he looked for ways to save the life of the roofs. Before solar array installation on the church's one flat roof, Tousignant recommended additional membranes be added to make sure no damage is done.
While the church building is historic, the solar arrays are perched on three peaks and flat roof of the additions, over the fellowship hall, plaza and classrooms—not any gray limestone of 1868 vintage.
Tousignant said that the installation not a difficult sell for the church body. The system was donated, carries a warranty, is rated for hail and wind damage, is unlikely to cause snow issues, and requires low maintenance nor cleaning.
"If we're getting the system at no cost, yeah, it's a no-brainer," said Tousignant, who also admitted that living green is counterintuitive at times, because "it costs more."
Solar power is a luxury, Tousignant admitted.
Tousignant, a self-proclaimed "green person" whose dream is to live on a self-sustaining farm, has been tracking the energy savings for the church. He believes it'll prove its savings as advertised.
After the first week of use, the church's Solar Edge monitoring system said that the church saved 3,300 pounds of CO2 emissions and 85 trees.
Tousignant hopes to keep the trend going, but he knows the week-to-week results won't be cookie cutter. The arrays are static, so as sun angles are altered per the change in seasons they don't turn to face the sun, which would've been a more expensive installation but also maximized the amount of solar energy that could be produced.
"And of course we're relying on the sun," Tousignant said. "We are at the mercy. But we are going to save energy."
Church members don't expect to start up any other forms of alternative energy—and for a simple reason.
"With solar there really isn't any maintenance," Tousignant said. "The efficiency on these panels has improved to where it's worthwhile."
Wind turbines and methods of tapping into geothermal energy aren't part of the church's game plan.
But churches should be taking care of the planet and each other, he said. "It's hard to find something that says in the Bible, 'No, you can't do solar.'"