St.John's tapping sun's power with solar project

PAUL BILODEAU/Staff photoThe Rev. Bret Hays of the St. John’s Church stands near the side of the church that will have solar panels installed beginning next week. 

The leaders and congregation at Gloucester’s St. John’s Episcopal Church are looking to save on energy costs over the next two decades, and they’re casting their eyes on a different high power – the sun.

St. John’s is undertaking a project to install a total of 60 solar panels combined on the roofs of its parish hall and rectory beginning next week in an effort that Rev. and Rector Bret B. Hays says will yield $100,000 in net savings over what should be the 25-year life of the panels’ lifespan.

“This was an idea that had been kicked around for quite a while,” said Hays, who is now in his seventh year at the helm of a church that dates to 1863. “Now, our vestry (board of directors) is 100 percent on board, and we’re excited to see it go forward.”

Paul McGeary, a former vestry member who is now heading up the church’s solar energy committee, pegged the overall cost of the work at between $60,000 and $70,000, and said the church stands to reel in $160,000 overall savings on its electricity costs combined with additional payments. Those include state incentive payments extended to businesses or institutions that convert to solar energy, plus renewable energy credits that kick in after the state incentives expire, McGeary said.

Hays said the church has been able to raise money for a portion of the project without venturing into a capital drive or extra collections from members of the congregation.

“People are supportive and excited, but I wouldn’t hit them up for money if we didn’t have to,” Hays said.

He said the church has money set aside for the work, but is also hopeful of getting financial support from the Boston-based Episcopalian Diocese of Massachusetts. The project is also being undertaken in partnership with the local clean energy advocacy group TownGreen 2025 and the Boston-based clean energy advisory group Resonant Energy, McGeary said.

Sven Amirian, vice president of sales and development with Invaleon Solar Technologies of Haverhill, the company hired to carry out the project, said a growing number of institutions are now turning more toward solar.

“One of the issues that has sort of stopped nonprofits is that there are tax credits associated with solar installations, and it can be difficult for them to monetize these the way businesses can,” he said. “But we, as a solar company and as a solar investor, can work with these institutions where they can achieve alternative ways of making this work.” He noted that a new state-based incentive program called “Smart” bundles the electrical savings with any additional solar credits over a 10-year period for a project the size of St. John’s, and 20 years for larger projects.

“It’s a real good program and (makes solar) easy to finance,” Amirian said.

The 60 solar panels on the two properties combined are expected to produce more than 22,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity each year, and Hays emphasized that the idea behind the project extends past financial goals. The historic church’s congregation, at one point, included noted inventor and mining engineer John Hays Hammond of castle fame, who donated money to build the parish hall and rectory. The rectory is located on Gloucester Avenue, separated from the church and parish hall sites off Middle and Washington streets.

“This project is about more than saving money,” he said. “We’ve long been concerned with being good stewards of creation, as the Bible consistently directs.

“From recycling to encouraging reuse through our thrift shop to replacing our lighting and heating with more efficient technology,” Hays said, “we’re always trying to understand how best to practice our faith in a modern setting.”

Ray Lamont can be reached at 978-675-2705, or via email; at rlamont@gloucestertimes.com.