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Looking to the Sun


Two things have been converging in recent years. First, solar power technology has been advancing. Secondly, the federal government has been dedicating a lot more money to encourage the use of solar power. 

“It is an excellent time to install solar. There’s never been a better time,” said Andrew J. Linhares, regional director and senior counsel for Renew Missouri in St. Louis.

There are multiple financial incentives available for going solar, with the largest coming from the Inflation Reduction Act passed last summer, allowing non-profits, including churches, to benefit from a direct payment that was previously only available as a tax credit. But obtaining current information on the latest solar incentives can appear daunting. Linhares has a bit of simple and clarifying advice for churches considering this move: don’t worry about it. 

“Just get a quote from multiple solar contractors,” Linhares said. “Get several quotes. It’s up to them to sort through all of the details of the programs and present you with the best bid for your situation.” 

Linhares says details about the latest programs will be available when a contractor can get back to a church with a quote. He recommends going with installers who are members of MOSIA. 

There are some things to think through initially. Solar panels on ground mounts are the easiest and, therefore, the cheapest way to go. Roof mounts are the next cheapest but should only be considered on roofs less than 10 years old, as the solar panels should last for 30 years and would get in the way of a roof replacement. Creating covered parking or a covered picnic shelter is another option, but it is the most expensive as more of a structure needs to be built to hold up the solar panels. 

Linhares said solar panels could often be installed for no money down, with immediate utility bill savings, resulting in essentially no cost for the person (or entity) having the installation done. The primary barrier he has seen with non-profits and churches is simply getting things going and seeing them through. 

“A lot of churches don’t have anyone on staff to deal with facilities,” Linhares said. “It takes someone contacting some installers to get a proposal, then pay attention to them and keep things moving forward. A volunteer may look at a proposal, say, ‘I don’t understand this,’ and just let it drop because they have a day job they need to focus on.” 

He does believe that if someone is willing to put in the effort, it will be worth it. 

“Wanting to develop sustainable energy is a great value to have, but what is making solar happen right now is economics,” Linhares said.

Before taking a step toward solar, it’s good to ensure your energy efficiency practices are in order. Andy Popp is the manager of Energy Efficiency for the Missouri Department of Natural Resources in Jefferson City. He urges anyone considering going solar to first look at their energy use. 

“Anything that you can do to reduce your base load will help, and that will also help you right-size what kind of solar system you need,” Popp said. 

Although extra power produced will feed back into the grid, people installing need to understand that they will be paid for that power at the production rate, not at the consumer rate of what they are paying for power. 

“If you’re installing it for environmental reasons, that’s fine, but if you’re just going for solar for economic reasons, you’re usually better off having a system that is just big enough to cover your use,” Popp said. 

Getting an energy audit will often point toward sealing up drafts, adding insulation or even just changing light bulbs, which can result in a quick payoff in energy savings from the amount spent. 

Upgrades to heating and air conditioning systems may also be warranted. 

“It’s best to have an ‘All of the Above’ approach,” Popp said. 

Daniel Bresette, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute in Washington, D.C.,  agrees that energy efficiency is essential, but solar takes it to the next level. He recently was part of a webinar for non-profit and faith-based institutions that want to become more environmentally friendly in their facilities. 

“Energy efficiency is always a good thing,” he said. “There are only so many places you can cut without cutting back on your mission. Efficiency saves precious resources. It’s a great step for organizations that want to do more.” 

According to DNR, the cost to establish a solar array has gone down 36% in the past five years. In addition, Missouri averages more than 200 sunny days per year, and there are 137 solar companies in the state.