Last Updated on March 10, 2023 by Anne Brock
Putting Faith into Action
An Oak Ridge, Tennessee church congregation is putting faith into action with its new solar project getting support from Uncle Sam through the Direct Pay program, as well as support from the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund (SFF). Faith Lutheran Church is enlisting the Knoxville solar firm Solar Alliance Southeast to add a 15.3 kilowatt solar array atop its facility. The photovoltaic system will create electricity to cover a portion of what is needed for worship and community gatherings.
“From its inception, Oak Ridge has been a leader with respect to energy technology, and our members are well aware of the advantages and limitations of most energy sources,” said the Reverend George Smith, Faith Lutheran’s Associate Pastor. “We have studied the feasibility of using solar panels for some time now, but could not quite justify the cost until we met with Solar Alliance, who proposed an affordable installation. Then when the federal government announced incentives that extended to nonprofits, we were already primed to proceed.”
Direct Pay for Nonprofits
Faith Lutheran Church will potentially be one of the first nonprofits in the nation to take advantage of the new Direct Pay provision the federal government provides as an incentive for energy-saving projects. In place of the 30% tax break that a for-profit business would receive for adding solar, the church could qualify for a check back from the federal government, after project completion, to cover 30% of the cost.
As for additional support, Director Autumn Long of the Appalachian Solar Finance Fund (SFF) said, “The SFF is pleased to provide grant funding support for the solar PV installation at Faith Lutheran Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. By going solar today, Faith Lutheran will save tens of thousands of dollars in energy costs over the coming decades, allowing this local institution to direct even more resources toward its community service activities. Moreover, solar projects like this one create good new local jobs while growing the region’s clean energy economy. The SFF helps advance these goals in coal-impacted communities throughout Central Appalachia by providing financial and technical assistance for solar project development at local institutions like Faith Lutheran Church. Find out more at solarfinancefund.org.”
The decision to add renewable energy in this way came after much analysis, committee discussion and prayer organized by lay leader and Church Treasurer William Koch. Koch explained, “I consider this solar panel system to be a starter system, to prove the viability and benefits of solar electric systems. While our congregation voted unanimously to proceed, I heard that there were skeptics coming into the meeting. Our presentation convinced them to vote in favor. However, I hope to add more panels in a few years for bigger savings, taking advantage of the scalability of solar panel systems.”
Supporting Ministries for Community
Faith Lutheran Church hosts and supports several different ministries in addition to weekly worship services. The church has hosted multiple training sessions for prospective foster parents, gathers nonperishable foods to coordinate with another local church food pantry and hosts quilters who supply finished quilts to the Lutheran World Mission. Other mission efforts support free medical care for those in need, safe activities for teens, seminary education and prison outreach.
This solar array is being added in cooperation with the City of Oak Ridge through an interconnection permit facilitated by Solar Alliance as part of its engineering and electrical services for the church. Solar Alliance Account Manager Haley Michael-Lee said, “It is truly an honor to bring our East Tennessee workforce and make sure all the details come together for an organization like Faith Lutheran.”
Koch added, “As the church’s treasurer, I saw that increasing cost of electricity was diverting funds away from other important missions of our church. Solar panels were an attractive option, after considering window films and other energy saving alternatives. We searched and spoke with several firms before finding Solar Alliance. They have been very professional in meeting our wants and needs.”
More Organizations Could Benefit
“This federal support for nonprofits allows a one-time investment to provide savings for decades to come. Just like teaching a man to fish feeds him for a lifetime, access to renewable energy incentives for nonprofits means they can reduce one of their biggest expenses and utilize their savings to further invest across the community.” said Solar Alliance Vice President Harvey Abouelata.
Faith Lutheran Church is located at 1300 Oak Ridge Turnpike. It has a history dating back to the 1940s when Oak Ridge was built to support the World War II effort. The church marks its 79th anniversary this February 13th. The solar array of 34 flush-mounted 450-watt modules attached to the roof is estimated to create more than 20,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.
“As we begin our 80th year in Oak Ridge, we expect this project to ease our utility expenses to the point that we can budget more money for ministry within the congregation and to the community. In effect, we are taking God’s ever-abundant gift of Tennessee sunshine and using it to provide ministry in His name to Tennessee people in need,” said Rev. Smith.
For more information:
Church Contact: Bill Koch
Director, Appalachian Solar Finance Fund
Project Manager, Energy Storage & Electrification Manufacturing Jobs Project