By Jim Leunk, member of RCRC
The Rochester Christian Reformed Church is located on Atlantic Ave in Penfield
Our church installed rooftop solar panels in 2021 to power its building entirely with clean electricity, seeking to encourage environmental stewardship and follow the biblical mandate to care for God’s creation.
According to Rochester Area Interfaith Climate Action, ours is the first solar-powered house of worship in the Rochester area.
A 90-panel array sends surplus power onto the grid of Rochester Gas and Electric Corp. during the summer and draws electricity from the grid to make up for any shortfall during the shorter, cloudier days of winter. The system’s performance in its first year suggests it will produce about 35,000 kilowatt-hours annually and meet our building’s need. Already it has produced more than 56,600 kWh since June of 2021. Anyone can watch our solar panels’ performance on the website of the company that manufactured our inverter.
*energy production as of 2/14/23
On the sunniest summer days, our system can produce 200 to 220 kWh. Of course, there also are a few cloudy days every winter when snow covers the panels and they produce 0 kWh.
GreenSpark Solar of Ontario, Wayne County, installed the system. The project cost approximately $72,000, partially offset by a subsidy of about $12,000 from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).
Before our church installed solar panels, our average monthly electric bill was about $305. For all of 2022, the first full year with our new system, we paid $430 for electricity; our typical monthly bill now is $22.45, which is the basic charge for having a meter and being connected to the grid. Our expectation is that most of the time we will build up a large electricity surplus between the vernal and autumnal equinoxes, use up that surplus during the winter, perhaps buy some power from RG&E to get through February, then start building up a surplus again in March.
A financial analysis by GreenSpark estimated that the system will slash the church’s electricity bills by enough to pay for itself within 14 years. The output of the solar panels is covered by a 25-year warranty, and they are expected to generate power for 30 years or more.
As you can see in the rooftop photo taken by GreenSpark Solar’s drone, there remains a lot of room for more solar panels on the church roof. We know that methane is on the way out as a fuel and that in 2020 RG&E committed to no future increases in the amount of natural gas it sells. Our building currently uses natural gas for heating and hot water, but when our furnaces and water heaters eventually require replacement, it seems likely that we will both want to and be compelled to install heat pumps. At that point, putting more solar panels on the roof will become an attractive option for powering those heat pumps.