The St. John's Solar Project

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Getting Solar Power St John’s

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 A small group of motivated parishioners was looking for a way our church, St. John’s Boulder, could be solar powered. We wanted to set a visible sign of our faith by providing a piece of the solution to our world’s glowing climate crisis. We wanted to be good stewards of Creation, now and for future generations.

As low-cost as solar photovoltaic had become, installing an array was still a capital investment, which could be a tough hurdle. And with St John’s being an historic site in Boulder, there was concern about an installation being even possible. Could we even put up panels? Did we have enough space on the newest part of our building?

With the blessing of the clergy, St John’s created a Solar Study Group of parishioners who embarked on a fact-finding mission about solar. We quickly learned from a local installer that we could fit 25 kilowatts on the roof of the new wing of our building, helping us to get past the regulations of our historic designation. We learned about the different kinds/generating capacities of panels and their costs.

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Financial Engineering

One of the biggest financial incentives for installing solar is the 30% Federal Investment Tax Credit (ITC), based on the total cost of installation. Any church, being non-profit, cannot take advantage of this tax credit. As we considered this, we found that another local church, Christ the Servant Lutheran, had created a Limited Liability Company (LLC) of parishioners to be the purchaser and owner of their array. The LLC, as a for-profit organization, could make use of the Federal tax credit, and could then sell clean power to the church each month. This allowed the parishioner-investors to put solar to the church and get their money back after a few years.

After the sixth year of ownership, the financial incentives for investors exhaust due to the depreciation schedule, and the church will buy the array from the LLC, at the depreciated value. Thereafter the church will enjoy even higher savings on their power, depending on the financing costs of the purchase. The investors will get their money back plus a return, depending on whether they have “passive income.”

Those investors who have passive income, such as from rental property, can see the highest tax shelter and highest return on investment. Other investors without passive income can see a minor gain, as well as get their money back when the church buys the array from the LLC. This latter group may find the investment a compelling value regardless of rate of return if they truly want to benefit both their church and the environment in an investment that pays back like a low-interest loan.

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The risks that the investors face include failure of the church to pay its electric bills due to a collapse of the solvency, or failure of the church to find financing for buying the array from the LLC at year six. We listed 10 other risks to investors in our document, “Solar LLC Investor Information.” We discussed these risks and decided they were low probability – and that the overall value of our project was compelling enough to justify continuing. The money savings for the church, the benefits of clean power, the potential returns to investors, all combine to make this a project that others should consider as well.

There are also a number of grant programs that help nonprofits and religious organizations to afford renewable energy or energy efficiency programs. We heard about, investigated, and applied for two grants available to us, one through a local gov't-business partnership that supports energy efficiency in businesses, one through Interfaith Power and Light. We are scheduled to receive the grant from the local organization. In our case this money will go to the investors, since they are the owners of the array. The Interfaith Power and Light award is part of a competition, and if St John’s wins, the award will go to the church.

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The Solar Group worked a communications plan through the summer and early fall of 2015. We sought and received the approvals and encouragements of our lay leaders, our congregation, the Colorado diocese, and the City of Boulder Landmarks Board.

In November 2015, St. John’s created our own LLC, comprised of 11 parishioners. Our LLC purchased 77 high efficiency panels to generate about 40% of the church’s annual electric needs. Our church will see about $100 per month in savings at the outset.

Colin Tomb of Pace awards a check to Fr. Ted of St. John's

Colin Tomb of Pace awards a check to Fr. Ted of St. John's

Realizing the Vision

Final design work took place near the end of 2015, and the construction permits were received in January 2016. Installation began the first week of February, and within two weeks, the array was complete and ready for connection to the church and the electric grid. It takes an additional 2-3 months for Xcel Energy to connect the panels to the grid. See our construction video  here and photos here

Sharing the Work

We at St John’s encourage other churches and nonprofits to follow in our footsteps and copy our documents as desired for your organization’s use. DISCLAIMER – the documents are for use as examples and templates, and your organization is entirely responsible for seeking professional advice on all facets of your project. St John’s accepts no responsibility for others’ projects or use of these documents

A snapshot of our sequence

The list below details how we went about executing our project, and includes links to documents, photos, and presentations we used to develop, communicate, and approve our project. You are welcome to copy our documents as desired for your organization’s use.  

  1. Apr 2015: Sought blessing from our clergy, then formed the Solar Study Group to investigate the technical, financial, aesthetic, and spiritual factors of installing Solar PV Panels. Our clergy also supplied names of key people to invite onto the committee.  View the emails here (in pdf format). 

  2. Jun 2015: Formed our project goals:

  • That our church should be a visible, vocal and faith-filled steward of the Earth

    1. That any renewable energy projects provide financial savings to the church

    2. That the beauty of our historic campus be preserved

View the project goals document here and the spreadsheet here (in MS Excel format)

  1. Jul 2015: Got information and budgetary bids from solar installation professionals. View the proposals here

  2. Aug 2015: Informed the Vestry (board of lay leaders) and got initial approval. View the vestry presentation here (in MS Powerpoint format) and the quick "elevator" pitch here (in MS Word format).

  3. Aug 2015: Went to City of Boulder Landmarks Board to seek approval to install on the non-historic portions of our building. View the Photoshop'd images here.

  4. Sep 2015: Investigated renewable energy grant programs, and applied for 2 grants available to us. View the PACE meeting notes here.

  5. Oct 2015: Applied to Xcel Energy (our utility company) to reserve financial benefits (RECs - Renewable Energy Credits); this put us “in line” with Xcel to be considered for these credits.

  6. Oct 2015: Communicated about our project to the parish, to seek support and investors. See the Rector's note to the parish here, and the information packet given to the parish here (in MS Word format).

  7. Nov 2015: Got formal approval from the Colorado diocese. See the Executive Summary given to the Standing Committee here.

  8. Nov 2015: Recruited the investors, formed the LLC (by filing an online web form and paying $50) and created a bank account. Investors then paid their contributions, $9500 each for 11 investors. View the LLC Participation document here, the LLC Operating Document with St. Johns here, and the Cash Flow Projection spreadsheet here.

  9. Dec 2015: LLC signed the contract with the solar installer and paid deposits

  10. Dec 2015: Signed the Power Purchase Agreement (PPA) between the LLC and the Church. See the Purchase Agrement here.

  11. Jan 2016: Final design submitted, construction permit granted

  12. Feb 2016: Our solar installer started construction Feb 3, 2016 and finished ten days later. It takes an additional 2-3 months for Xcel Energy to connect the panels to the grid.

An alternative for churches that do not have parishioners who are ready or able to invite -

Consolidated List of Documents