Will your church go solar?

Financial incentive to join the renewable-energy movement just got stronger

Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake, Colo., installed solar panels this year. — Mountain Community Mennonite Church Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake, Colo., installed solar panels this year. — Mountain Community Mennonite Church

With the passage of the ­Inflation Reduction Act, the solar-power landscape has changed dramatically, especially for churches and other non­profits. The Biden administration’s push to reduce carbon emissions includes a 30% direct payout for nonprofits purchasing solar panels.

“As the need for urgent climate action is becoming clearer each month, faith-based and charitable entities are now much better positioned to do their part,” said Duane Ediger, a solar installer, renewable-energy advocate and member of Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson, Ariz.

Previously, a 30% tax credit for installing solar panels had dropped to 26% and was due to expire in 2024. Now, those with tax liability can receive this credit for the next decade, and a parallel benefit is extended to nonprofits.

Beginning in 2023, churches can receive 30% of their solar installation costs refunded as a direct payout.

“Thirty percent is no stick in the eye!” said Ron Ringenberg of Prairie Street Mennonite Church in Elkhart, Ind. Prairie Street and New Foundation United in Christ Mennonite Church are working together on plans for solar installations.

Installing solar panels can divert money that would have been spent on utilities to whatever mission a church or other nonprofit cares about. For churches with capital, installing solar panels was already financially beneficial in the long term. Now, the financial case is even more compelling, and the process should be simpler.

On the Mennonite Creation Care Network website, mennocreationcare.org, you can find a how-to guide for congregations going solar. The booklet covers the rationale, a step-by-step process and resources such as what questions to ask solar installers.

Writer Karla Kauffman of West Liberty, Ohio, interviewed 18 Mennonite congregations and multiple solar installers. Over and over, solar congregations advised others to “just do it.” They offered unanimous affirmation for their installations. Many of their stories and tips are included.

Every congregation interviewed that installed solar panels had one thing in common: a tenacious leader. This visionary person raised the issue, did initial research and then pulled in others. One described himself as a ­“solar evangelist.” Another used the term “solar champion.” Both men and women served in this role. A few congregations had multiple solar champions.

These tenacious leaders did not necessarily have technical or financial expertise, but they were committed to getting the installation completed. They took initiative, handled early research, dealt with details, contacted people, stayed organized and persisted in hard moments. They might approach members for funding or leave that to others.

“I was hesitant about being the leader for our project because I had none of the technical knowledge about solar — just the conviction that the time for solar has come,” said Jana Preheim of Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake, Colo. She was pleasantly surprised by the congregation’s overwhelming support. The church installed panels in 2022.

Andy Schell, marketing manager for Paradise Energy Solutions, an East Coast solar installation company, thinks the demand created by the Inflation Reduction Act refunds will be challenging for the solar industry.

“Like almost every industry at the moment, we’re already facing global supply-chain issues,” he said. “The increased demand will make those more difficult, especially in the short term. It would be prudent for interested churches to start the process now.”

Jennifer Halteman Schrock directs the Mennonite Creation Care Network.

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