Nonprofit Solar Spotlight: Newtown Congregational Church


Our team at CollectiveSun is passionate about helping nonprofit organizations go solar – and we love to celebrate when they achieve their renewable energy goals! When these organizations, the backbone of our communities, make the leap to solar they serve as models for both the citizens they serve and the wider communities. They also play a vital part in combating the impact of climate change – something that never fails to inspire our team.

The Nonprofit Solar Spotlight series is our way of honoring our partners in solar. So far this year we have spoken with six nonprofits: Congregation Shaarei Tefillah in Massachusetts, Our Savior’s Lutheran Church and the Museum of Photographic Arts in California, New Milford United Methodist Church in Connecticut, St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Massachusetts, and the Association for Mental Health and Wellness in New York. This month we are proud to feature Newtown Congregational Church (NCC) in Newtown, Connecticut.

As we spoke with Barbara Donahue, NCC congregant, and solar committee member, we learned about the church’s long-time commitment to sustainability, their journey to go solar and some specifics about the savings and funding for the project.

In a way, our solar panels are a visible statement to the Newtown community of our commitment to Christ’s teaching. As an early solar adapter in the faith community, we signaled to all our commitment to creation care.

 

We would like to begin by asking you to share the story behind Newtown Congregational Church.

NCC has been central to the Newtown community for over 300 years, initially serving the dual role of the house of faith and community meeting house. In our ongoing role as a house of faith, we remain a visual and spiritual center in Newtown, reaching out and bringing the town together through times of joy and sorrow and modeling our faith for the surrounding community. 

 

How is NCC connected to Newtown and the greater Connecticut community?

NCC tries to balance local, national, and international ministries. Cornerstone Thrift Center, Red Cross Blood Drives (37 drives in the last 12 months), and Pancakes and Parking for the Labor Day Parade are three examples of local engagement. In Connecticut, Bridgeport Rescue Mission and in Hartford, Mothers United Against Violence are examples of our statewide outreach; while on a national level Back Bay Mission in Biloxi, MS, and globally through the United Church of Christ One Great Hour of Sharing.

 

What sparked NCC’s interest in renewable energy and sustainability?

At NCC we have taken concrete steps towards the Carbon Neutral Initiative. About a decade ago we formed a Green Team. There were 3 levels of being green and, even prior to installing the solar system, NCC had achieved level 3 Green recognition from the United Church of Christ (UCC) in 2017, the umbrella organization of which we are a member. UCC has a very strong sustainability mission as well as other missions that NCC supports. With actions such as conversion to LED lighting and an HVAC energy efficiency project, installation of solar was the logical next step.

A committee of nine members of the church made congregant Ed Miklaszewski’s desire a reality, with Barbara Donahue the driving force behind bringing the project to completion. Our team was composed of a group of people steeped in sustainability, electrical, engineering, finance, information technology expertise and was a blend of female, male, young-ish, and wise. We presented our case to the congregation at the annual meeting. The solar project was presented to them as a way to self-fund: save money starting in year one with over $100,000 being saved over the 25-year life of the panels.

In a way, our solar panels are a visible statement to the Newtown community of our commitment to Christ’s teaching. As an early solar adapter in the faith community, we signaled to all our commitment to creation care. NCC was driven to seek a solar installation for both financial and faith reasons. The commitment to a solar PV installation was meant to reduce the $15,393 annual electric bill while continuing NCC’s mission to environmental sustainability.

 

Solar PV helps Newtown, CT with their mission of being a sustainable town. The financial savings is helping Newtown Congregational Church keep the doors open. 

 

What motivated you to work with CollectiveSun?

What motivated NCC to work with CollectiveSun is a very good question with a roundabout answer! Financing the solar installation required researching not only the interest rates available but the closing costs that would be incurred. We contacted a local bank, a national bank, C-PACE for CT, Greenworks National C-PACE program and the UCC Building and Loan Fund. 
Through C-PACE we found out about the opportunity for a 15% discount off the total cost of the project when partnering with CollectiveSun. The interest rates were all about the same, but the big difference was the closing costs. The UCC Building & Loan Fund was chosen for financing the project. One of the team members called CollectiveSun to find out if they would work with us even if NCC chose not to go with C-PACE financing. We were very happy that CollectiveSun resoundingly said “Yes!” 

 

Can you describe the savings and funding involved with the project in more detail?

Each year at the end of March, Eversource, our energy provider, settles the solar kWh rollover. For the 12 months from April 2020 through March 2021, the electric bills totaled $736. At the end of this period, NCC had a balance of 30,000 unused kWh. Eversource has credited NCC $878 to be used as an offset of electric bills going forward. NCC has also received $6,951 in ZREC payments. The loan to purchase the solar infrastructure is $13,987 on an annual basis. This 15-year loan to the UCC Building and Loan Fund, will be paid off 10 years prior to the solar panels warranted usage of 25 years. 
The net cost of electricity for the 12 months ending March 2021 is $6,894. As a point of reference, prior to the solar infrastructure, the last full year paid to Eversource for electricity was $15,393, saving NCC $8,499.

Eversource Payments 12 months ending March 2021       $736
Credit from Eversource                                                           ($878)
ZREC Payments for 12 months                                              ($6,951)
Loan Payments for UCC Building & Loan Fund                  $13,987
Cost of Electricity for 12 months                                             $6,894

By reducing the operating costs of the church by $8,499 in the first full fiscal year beat our expectation of $2,451, which is the amount that was presented as year 1 savings at the NCC annual meeting. With the church being up and operating post-COVID it will be interesting to see if the 30,000 kwh covers the estimated usage in the future.

The cost of the solar system was $160,992 and CollectiveSun paid $24,149 with NCC financing $136,843. Solar PV helps Newtown, CT with its mission of being a sustainable town. The financial savings is helping Newtown Congregational Church keep the doors open.

 

What are some lessons learned along the way?

If you go with CollectiveSun in Connecticut the town will want to charge property taxes. There is an exemption form from the state that exempts the solar system from being taxed. This needs to be filed in October year one along with the property tax form for all six years. This has to be filed by CollectiveSun.

 

Any particular advice for other nonprofits looking to go solar?

We would recommend that you pay extra for higher efficiency panels and the inverter. The SREC/ZREC, which are payments from Eversource to the church, are based on the amount of energy you generate. Our research in 2018 showed that SunPower panels and the SolarEdge Optimizer and Inverter were the most efficient. Also, our recommendation is to receive at least three proposals. CollectiveSun will require this and your church will want to know that you did your homework. 

Having gone through the process with CollectiveSun and Purepoint Energy, our solar installer, we learned that both are very good partners to have in the process. Depending on where you are located, your town or state may have specific rules about the installation or property tax and exemption. Do your homework and get in touch with someone who has already gone through the process. After speaking with an industry expert in CT we not only interviewed Purepoint Energy, which was the recommended company, but also two other companies. Several team members spoke with businesses and St. John’s Lutheran Church that had used Purepoint Energy and asked lots of questions. 

One of Newtown Congregational Church’s goals is to help other nonprofits navigate proposing a solar installation to your church or synagogue. If you are considering a solar installation NCC would be more than happy to help you with the process. NCC would also like to be around for another 300 years!

 

About Newtown Congregational Church

Newtown Congregational Church (NCC), is a community that follows the teaching of Jesus Christ by believing that everyone is our neighbor and deserving of love and respect.
We welcome, embrace, and celebrate God’s all-inclusive love of all people … no exceptions!
We affirm that full and equal participation in the life and leadership of this church is open to all.

WE CHOOSE LOVE … ALWAYS!

Learn more about Newtown Congregational Church!

 

Newtown Congregational Church Solar Committee
  • John Treleaven
  • Barbara Donahue
  • Cynthia Clark
  • Ed Miklaszewski
  • Ned Simpson
  • Paul D’Agostino
  • Tom Bender
  • Paul Arneth
  • Ken Donahue

 

About Barbara Donahue

Barbara Donahue began her career at General Foods in corporate accounting then in public accounting, earning her CPA as an auditor for KPMG and finally as a finance manager for Reed Exhibitions.

Since 2010 she has been accredited by the U.S. Green Building Council LEED AP + Homes (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design). Currently, Barbara is consulting on energy-efficient building and analyzing energy costs pre and post-implementation.

If you are a Nonprofit organization interested in learning more about solar, or are looking to launch a solar project with a Nonprofit organization, please contact our VP of Sales, Matt Brennan who can answer any of your questions.

Matt can be reached at [email protected] or 619-838-7363.

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