Unitarian Universalist Congregation New River Valley in Blacksburg, Virginia, is certified at the 60% and above level for their new solar panel installation, preventing 29 tons of carbon emissions annually.
“We are grateful for those in the congregation who had the vision and commitment to help us live more fully into our faith.” says Rev. Pam Phillips, minister of the congregation, “Installing solar panels is just the first step in respecting and taking care of the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”
The Unitarian Universalist Congregation New River Valley facility has set a goal to be all-electric in 5 years and get all their power from the sun. They are gradually transitioning their heating and cooling systems to electric, and the addition of 32 kW of solar allows the congregation to drastically reduce their use of fossil fuels to heat, cool, and power their worship building.
As a certified Green Sanctuary congregation, they wanted to reduce fossil fuel usage. The Green Sanctuary Program is a Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) program that encourages congregations to practice the UUA’s Seventh Principle: respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part. The program is a means by which congregations can work toward focusing on the theological, spiritual, and ethical aspects of human activities that affect the health and sustainability of the living earth. Each participating congregation completes at least 12 projects in four focus areas: Worship and Celebration, Religious Education, Environmental Justice, and Sustainable Living.
The Budget Committee, Executive Board, and the Environmental Justice Team worked together to investigate the installation of solar panels. They considered different ways to finance it: invite individual congregants to “buy” a solar panel for installation or funding it through a capital campaign, but they finally agreed to enter a Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) with a local company, Baseline Solar.
Baseline Solar, whose owner is a member of the congregation, paid the upfront cost of the panels and all associated equipment, plus the installation and ongoing maintenance.
The PPA provides savings to the congregation that pays fixed payments to the PPA. The local utility electricity costs went up 50% this year, so the value of the PPA arrangement increases more each year as the local utility raises its prices. This is the first such installation in the New River Valley.
In November 2021 the solar panels were installed on the south-facing roof of the building. During the first year, 2022, the solar panels produced 40,900kWh of green energy, which avoided 29 metric tons of CO2 emissions.
The eighty 400-watt panels will provide approximately 80% of the building’s energy needs. They hope to become more efficient in their use of electricity as they continue to make improvements and thus provide even a greater percentage of their needs with these panels.
Currently, the UUC has two 4-ton and three 5-ton heat pumps, along with a single 2-ton mini-split heat pump. There are also three 5-ton package units powered by natural gas. All the units are 15 years old except the mini-split, which is 22. The congregation is setting aside money to upgrade the gas package units within five years to more efficient heat pumps with the goal of being an all-electric building and thus no longer depending on fossil fuels.
“We are proud of our solar panel PPA and love helping our environment by our major reduction in the use of fossil fuels!” says Robert Stimson, a member of the congregation, “We hope to inspire our congregants and other organizations to also initiate solar panel installations.”