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First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta adds solar panels to church roof

Chip Pickering, owner of Pickering Associates of Parkersburg, and Jeff Burge, electrician with Pro 1 Electric, LLC, work on installing the solar panels on the roof of the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta on Tuesday. (Photo by Hannah Kittle)

FUUSM adds solar panels to church roofMARIETTA — The First Unitarian Universalist Society of Marietta (FUUSM) is expanding its green initiative by installing solar panels on the roof of its church this week, possibly the first Washington County church to do so.

“We feel that putting up solar panels and investing solar energy is one of the most spiritual things someone can do in this day and age,” said George Banziger, president of the FUUSM Board of Trustees. “We need to do everything as individuals and groups to address climate change.”

It cost a total of $45,000 to acquire and install the solar panels through Pickering Associates of Parkersburg, which bid alongside Third Sun Solar.

“They both bid on the project and we were impressed with both of them,” said Dave Ballantyne, co-owner of Golden Rule Associates, LLC and a member of the church. “We just looked at the overall relationship and the package…it was a plus with Pickering (Associates of Parkersburg) that they could do it before the end of the year.”

Funding, at first, was problematic seeing as how the church would have to raise funds over time for the panels rather than paying for them outright, and because they are a religious organization, they would not be able to claim the 30 percent federal income tax credit because they don’t pay taxes.

However, Ballantyne purchased the panels through his business to receive the tax credit and to help the church receive the panels faster and pay for them entirely at the beginning.

“We wrote a power purchase agreement, which will be between my business and the church,” he said. “Essentially, the business will get the savings and charge the church for power, which is generated by the (solar) array.”

The formal agreement is set to last 25 years or until the church pays off the money they owe to Ballantyne and his business.

Approximately 66 percent of the annual electrical usage of the church building will come from the new solar panels. For the first 25 years, FUUSM will save about 10 percent on its electric bill annually and the remainder will go toward paying off the loan with Golden Rule Associates, LLC.

When the organization owns the panels, they will receive the entire 66 percent of savings. Banziger said church members and friends of the church can donate by helping repay Golden Rule Associates, LLC for the solar panels or by purchasing more panels to be placed on the roof, which will allow them to continue to be even more green.

“(Ballantyne’s) generosity with his capital investment is why we are able to do it now and we are extremely grateful to him,” said Banziger. “There is more that can be done and our members and friends have been asked to contribute to the addition of new solar panels.”

The Rev. Kathryn Hawbaker said those at the church feel that what they are doing with the solar panels truly represents what they believe in.

“We really feel like we are putting our faith into action,” she said, adding that they are committed to clean air, clean water and environmental issues. “In a way, it demonstrates our commitment and is an example to others.”

Ballantyne noted that the church is a “Green Sanctuary” congregation, which is a designation it received in 2014 after an extensive application process from the Unitarian Universalist Association, its national denominational organization.

“The church believes in being responsible custodians of the earth and to have a respect for the earth and the interconnectedness of life,” he said. “With that being one of our core values, climate change is a part of that and is a natural buy-in.”

Banziger said they are excited to be able to do this project and become even more of a voice for the green initiative and the “Green Sanctuary” by being a model for introducing renewable energy sources, committing to the environment and by presenting themselves to the community as environmentally responsible.

“We’re very proud of this,” he said. “We are hoping that the other religious organization that have a commitment to the stewardship of the environment will work with us to address the consequences of human-induced climate change.”

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