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New solar panels electrify church

Carmel, California, church builds in sustainable manner.
By Staff Writer
January/February 2005 1.1.05

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The Unitarian Universalist Church of the Monterey Peninsula in Carmel, Calif., is banking on sunshine for its electricity. The church installed 180 solar energy panels on its property in September 2004 and will become 100 percent independent of fossil fuel within the year. The panels are installed on a swath of land under power lines used by the Pacific Gas and Electric Company.

The project, which cost $250,000, evolved as part of a larger plan to double the size of the church's physical plant. The congregation wanted to build in a sustainable manner and was working toward certification as a "green sanctuary" by the Seventh Principle Project. Member Greg Wolfson saw an opportunity both to fulfill the congregation's desire to build according to green principles and to take advantage of a $110,000 rebate offered by the California Energy Commission for construction of a renewable energy source. Since the rebate offer was only good for nine months, the congregation needed to move swiftly.

Wolfson ordered the panels, and congregational work parties spent two months preparing the site by clearing brush and setting up frames. When the panels arrived, congregants installed them in an afternoon at an event Wolfson called a "solar raising."

In addition to ease of installation and maintenance, the panels promise a solid financial return. According to Wolfson, the congregation can currently expect to save about $5,000 a year in electricity bills, and will save even more when the church's expansion has been completed.

Parishioners are excited, says minister the Rev. Beth Miller. "People feel like we're doing something concrete for the Seventh Principle."

For more information, contact Miller at (831) 624-7404.

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