Church completes pioneering project

2010
Pictured are some of the newly-installed solar panels on the education building at St. Paul United Church of Christ in Columbia. 

St. Paul United Church of Christ in Columbia recently finished installing solar panels on its buildings, making it the first house of worship in Monroe County to use this potential energy of the future. 

“It’s a natural source of renewable energy that we should take advantage of,” consistory member Bob Habermehl said when explaining why the church wanted to do this work. “We’re kind of a lead church in the area for UCC churches.” 

The process of getting the solar panels installed began about 2.5 years ago when now-retired Pastor Robert Goddard suggested the project.

The church expected to have solar energy sooner, but got caught up in the bureaucracy of state government. 

Working with a company called Day & Night in Collinsville, the church applied for a Solar Renewable Energy Credit from Illinois as a nonprofit. About six months after their application, the state said St. Paul UCC of Columbia was in too wealthy of an area to qualify for incentives available to nonprofits. 

It reapplied, this time for traditional commercial incentives, which pay for themselves in eight years instead of six like the nonprofit ones. 

“That pushed the ball down the road, and it just kept going and going,” Habermehl said. 

With that done, Lowry Electric installed solar panels on two buildings at 127 St. Paul Street. 

About 75 percent of the solar panels are on the roof of the church’s educational building. The rest are on the church itself. 

The solar panels also require very little maintenance and are supposed to last for 30 years, at which point they will lose just 5 percent of production. They are also insured for possibilities such as hail damage. 

All told, about half of the church’s electricity is now provided by solar. The project will pay for itself in about eight years.

“So what would be in that number would be the total cost of the system, the SREC and the savings, which is about $5,900 on our electric bill,” Habermehl explained. “It’s kind of a no-brainer if you can get the money together and get your congregation on board. We have a great congregation. They’re pretty progressive with trying to do the right thing for the community.” 

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