St. John’s Lutheran Church in Stamford, CT has achieved a whopping emissions reduction of over 80% through holistic long term planning to both save energy and make better use of their buildings.
In their own words ,
“Several projects were part of a long-term planning effort that began in 2008-2009: Efficient lighting installations began in 2009 and continued over several years of upgrades; a new efficient boiler was installed in 2012; solar panels were implemented in 2017. The property committee was the primary group, though the funding and plans of the projects were always communicated to the full congregation and Council over the years and updates provided as major tasks or approvals were done. Of particular note, we should mention the work done by J. Geils and Andrew Carney, the Property Committee Chairman during these periods, and for the supporting work of Bruce Koch on long-term planning and funding.
In the context of targeting a solar installation as an environmental advocacy goal, it became clear many other energy saving projects and construction needs should first be addressed in the facility which had aged systems. Efficient lighting and a new boiler were the first “low-hanging fruit” that could fit within our budgets and had clear paybacks. A new roof was also on the roadmap and was needed before solar could be designed and installed.
By 2014, there was also a strategic move to proactively attract and support more community groups (other churches, non-profits, cultural organizations) in the use of our facilities which had significant capacity available. Our rental income had increased from negligible in 2013 to substantial in 2018 with several of the major renters agreeing to long-term use arrangements and bringing added energy and vibrancy to the community. To serve many of these efforts, we added AC in key rooms, and that factored into the solar project sizing and deployment.
The Solar system includes 160 Sunpower panels with 57.6 kW and 5 Solaredge inverters yielding an estimated 63,970 kWh per year. Determining how to fund the upfront costs of solar and AC projects were debated and explored with the help of the CT Clean Energy Fund and analysis of the various choices including PPAs (Power Purchase Agreements) and other fund raisings or endowment withdrawals. In the end we purchased the systems and financed solar/roof/AC with support of a ELCA Mission Fund 25-year mortgage loan of $345K at 3.875% interest. 2017-18 solar system cost was ~$190K; the roof which was due for replacement was ~$25K; AC and supporting preparation was ~$130K. Including the prior boiler, lighting and other control systems upgrades back to 2009, a total of ~$425K-450K.
We started talking about solar at SJLC in 2007-08 as an outgrowth of Sunday Adult Forum readings and discussions as a group. That evolved into “green themes” that the church might do for both its own site needs and as community outreach. Total savings from all projects described plus estimated incremental rental contribution margin are running at ~$70-72K per year as of 2021-22 versus 2016 baseline data. In 2019 after all projects were installed, and pre-pandemic, we used ~23.3 thousand kWh versus 2016 as the baseline year we used ~50.5 thousand kWh. We are saving ~52 tons of CO2 annually which has an annual value of $4100-$4700 based on Rutgers 2020 study of New England CO2.
In summary, there are several aspects of success to highlight:
First, it was a long-term effort over many years of education and communications within the congregation that brought many parties and committees together, all having a voice and vote on the process and deployments. The property committee and many people involved over the years on various of these efforts did a great job on not only the tasks, but in the broad congregation buy-in and engagement.
Second, each project—lighting, boiler, solar – has had solid financial payback in terms of savings on their own accord. When we accumulate their total contributions and add in the increased site utilization by attracting other mission-based groups to use the facility, the impact is magnified. Total savings from all projects described and estimated incremental rental contribution margin are running at ~$70-72K per year as of 2021-22 versus 2016 baseline data on total investments of $425-450K.
We hope it inspires congregations and neighbors to take a holistic view of their properties – how to save both energy and to improve utilization. The effort was over a long period –not just a solar project, but rather dealt with many property needs and opportunities to improve the facility and usage. Now that we have several years of operation behind us, and as we move post pandemic, we want to provide more education to others on the process and benefits that can be gained by similar efforts in the community.”