It’s not something that members, visitors or guests notice when they enter First Unitarian Church. The 350-square-foot solar array is settled comfortably on the building’s roof, carefully positioned to catch the sun’s rays and convert them to energy.
Installed in October 2013, the solar array is evidence of how this congregation chose to invest in the future by becoming a responsible member of the community, reducing our dependence on energy produced from fossil fuels.
In Kentucky, an estimated 93 percent of electricity is generated by coal. Destructive mining practices, including mountaintop removal mining, coupled with overwhelming evidence of the health hazards resulting from burning coal are social justice issues that the congregation could not overlook.
Church members investigated renewable energy activities for many years prior to the board’s adoption of the recommendation to purchase the solar array. But before adopting solar energy the congregation undertook efforts to reduce everyday energy consumption. Among the efforts was to replace older appliances with new energy-efficient models and to install low-watt lighting throughout the 140+ year-old building.
These efforts don’t just support the church’s needs on Sunday mornings. The church complex, which includes both the church and Heywood House, are occupied seven days a week. The building houses Louisville Help Ministries and hosts hundreds of weddings, musical events, meetings and other functions for non-profit groups and others throughout the year.
The solar array, which consists of 10 - 250 Watt Sharp Solar panels, were manufactured in Memphis, Tennessee with union labor. The rack was designed, engineered, wind tunnel tested, and manufactured in Albuquerque, New Mexico and finally, the inverters were designed in the United States. First Unitarian contracted SunWind Power of Louisville to install the array.
The 2.5kW Photovoltaic (PV) system will generate an anticipated 3000kWh of electricity per year. Financially, the system will pay for itself about half way through its expected 30-year life expectancy. The average monthly carbon offset from the array is the equivalent of three trees.
The system has a separate website allowing congregation members to monitor the solar energy collection, while enabling educational opportunities for the whole community to use to demonstrate the effectiveness of solar energy.
This action aligns with the core values of Unitarian Universalists and is a way to bring our faith into the world. By adopting solar energy collection for our building we are setting an example for our congregation, our community and other Louisville-area faith communities that might be considering how they could also reduce their carbon footprint by using sustainable energy sources such as solar.