Unitarian Universalist Community Church of Santa Monica is going solar! On the eve of Earth Day church leaders decided to fund the installation of a 7500-watt solar system that will save the church approximately $200/month in electric bills. A three-time winner of Sustainable Quality Awards for its green building retrofits, community education, and related efforts, UUSM members are elated to finally add renewable energy generation to their 1930s campus on Arizona and 18th St. It appears to be the first church in Santa Monica to do so.
UUSM has been engaged in a multiphase upgrade of all its buildings since it purchased the 1915 bungalow next door to the church in 2004. The upgrades, overseen by architect and Green Living Committee Chair Alison Kendall, began with moving the bungalow forward on its lot and retrofitting it with accessible bathrooms for classes and meetings. Moving the bungalow allowed space for a series of courtyards with stormwater detention facilities beneath. The retrofit of the 1960 Social Hall came next, adding a commercial kitchen and sliding doors to the courtyard. A final step has been a series of upgrades to install LED lighting and new technology allowing hybrid online and live services during the Covid pandemic. Each project integrates the latest in energy, water, and resource-conserving equipment and materials, with informational signage designed to explain the green features of the building to users.
While installing solar had been a long-term plan, finding a contractor to provide the relatively small system was difficult. After years of searching, the church was referred to Opulent Power Systems who offered an attractive bid. Moving quickly, Kendall launched a campaign to raise the needed funds for the project, as well as to obtain the Board of Trustees support for the project. The haste was motivated by the potential to secure soon-to-expire reimbursement rates that would be paid by the utility for excess power generated by the church, which will reduce the payback period for the system to an estimated 5.6 years.
Amazingly, six generous Green Living Committee members quickly stepped up, pledging $22,000 to fund the initial cost of installation. The strong donor support made the Board’s approval of the project equally rapid. All members realized that saving $200 in electricity a month will be an excellent investment, an example of wise stewardship of church resources AND of the Earth’s resources as well. The 2022 Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) is expected to provide a 30% direct-pay rebate for such projects to non-profits, totaling over $7,000 for UUSM. These direct payments, never before provided to non-profits, will help many organizations install solar PV and energy conservation projects. The church also hopes to use IRA and other rebates to help offset the costs of replacing aging gas heaters in the church and social hall with “heat pump” units that provide clean, green, all-electric heating and cooling.
Years of climate activism by the church have paid off, made possible by congregational education, generous donors, government incentives, and a commitment to putting church values into practice. It was certainly a great way to celebrate Earth Day!