Roane County church goes solar

By Autumn Long on July 6, 2018
The 89-panel, 28.48-kW solar array will offset all of the church’s electricity needs.

A small rural Presbyterian church in the heart of West Virginia has become the latest house of worship in the state to go solar. Spencer Presbyterian Church was founded more than a century ago in Roane County, about 50 miles north of Charleston. The current church building, constructed in 1975, houses a preschool, after-school program, and worship space. The church had a new metal roof installed last year. That roof now hosts an 89-panel, 28.48-kilowatt solar array. The system will offset 100% of the church’s annual electricity consumption.

Local church session member Brenda Wilson spearheaded the campaign to bring solar to Spencer Presbyterian. According to Wilson, the congregation responded enthusiastically to her suggestion to install solar panels on the church roof. “Our church is full of people who love nature, people who want to support sustaining the environment,” Wilson said. “This was a church that knew about solar panels and [is] very much in favor of them.”

Once Wilson had secured the support of local church leaders, she had to find a way to fund the solar installation. Fortunately, she discovered that the project was eligible for low-interest loan and grant financing through the Presbyterian Church USA. Church projects that include renewable energy sources or energy efficiency upgrades can qualify for reduced interest rates through the Presbyterian Investment and Loan Program.

Spencer Presbyterian used a combination of loan and grant financing, as well as church funds, to pay for their solar array. Wilson said the church’s investment in solar will pay for itself within about a decade. “After that is when the real payback starts,” Wilson said. The solar array will continue to offset 100% of the church’s annual electricity consumption for the remainder of the panels’ 25- to 30-year lifespan.

The church contracted with Shepherdstown-based solar installer Solar Holler to complete the project. Solar Holler has installed and financed solar projects for other West Virginia churches and nonprofits. It partners with Rewire Appalachia, a social enterprise based in Huntington to provide solar job training and apprenticeships for young people from southern West Virginia’s coalfields. “We found it pretty compelling that [Solar Holler is] working with Coalfield Development,” Wilson said. “Our congregation really liked that, because helping jobless youth is just a really good idea.”

A dedication ceremony for the solar array was held at the church at the end of June. The ceremony included prayers, hymns, and bible readings, as well as information about solar.

“At a dedication, you lay your hands on the person or object to be dedicated,” Wilson said. “In this case, because the panels are up on the roof, we [had] streamers coming down from the roof, and everyone put their hands on the streamers to dedicate the panels.”

Wilson is justly proud that her small, rural congregation is one of the first churches in West Virginia to go solar. “This will be my legacy,” Wilson said. “It is good to be in the vanguard, and it is good to leave something to your community for the future.”