NORTHUMBERLAND — The 610 roof-mounted solar panels installed at Sunbury Bible Church this month will save the church and the attached Sunbury Christian Academy hundreds of thousands of dollars in energy costs.
But the move to solar power was more than just good business sense. Church leaders say the decision was based on the responsibility they have as Christian believers.
“Psalm 24:1 declares, ‘The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it’,” said Mike Miller, pastor. “Our responsibility is to be faithful stewards, or managers, of what God entrusts to us. As He enables us to harness energy from the sun and then use it to make much of Jesus and serve others, that in my mind is being a faithful steward.”
Sun Directed, of State College, designed a 207.4-kilowatt high-efficiency, grid-tied system that will produce around 250,000-kilowatt hours of energy annually for the entire 35,000 square-foot facility. To put that into perspective, that’s enough to power 24 Pennsylvania homes for a year.
The company reports the church will save nearly $700,000 in energy costs over the next 25 years.
According to Michael Shadow, Sun Directed’s founder and CEO, “It’s a concrete way to put faith into action and a smart business decision too. Sunbury Bible Church will reduce their carbon footprint by 150 tons of carbon dioxide in just the first year while saving on power bills.”
The benefits of solar power have long been recognized by the deacons at the church, who have been researching options for several years.
“The current cost of electricity and increased efficiency of solar panels led to the conclusion that now is a wise time to act,” said Jim Kohl, chair of the body of deacons. “Our church membership voted on the project and approved it overwhelmingly.”
While he declined to share the cost of the panels and the installation, Miller did share that the projected monthly cost of the project over the next six years is close to their average monthly electrical costs, so it will have little impact on their budget.
“The big return on investment,” he said, “comes in years seven and beyond when all of the savings resulting from the electricity produced from the solar panels can be directed to supporting the ministries of our academy and church.”
He said an added benefit is that their science classes will be able to monitor energy output and other data in real time.
Sunbury Bible Church is just one of an increasing number of churches looking for alternative sources of energy. Though as a non-profit they don’t benefit from the federal tax-credit program for solar power, the cost of solar panels continues to fall, and as a result, more of them are able to afford the initial cost to later absorb the exponential savings.
According to Sal Edor, sales and marketing leader for Sun Directed, in addition to the increased number of churches switching to solar power, he’s also seeing that many churches are expressing their concern for what has become known as “creation care.”
“Communities of faith as a whole are really concerned about environmental stewardship and doing what they feel called to do as a community of faith, to keep the environment safe,” Edor said.
Cricket Hunter is program director for Pennsylvania Interfaith Power & Light, an affiliate of Interfaith Power & Light, which reports partnering with more than 20,000 congregations across the country to promote environmental stewardship activities.
“Different religious communities, traditions and denominations, agree on very little,” Hunter said. “And yet all faith traditions actually call us to care for the most vulnerable and to care for creation.”
“It’s part of walking the walk, of living the message that they’re committed to,” she added.
Sunbury Bible Church’s solar project began in early October. They expect to “flip the switch” by the end of this month.