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Solar Will Save Modesto Church $700,000 in Power Bills Over 30 Years

Monday, Sep. 03, 2012

Modesto church sees the light — via solar

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 — After decades of preaching the power of the Son (Jesus), the Modesto Church of the Brethren is harnessing an additional kind of power — energy from the sun.
The west Modesto church, long known for its emphasis on social justice and environmental issues, installed a solar system last week to provide 100 percent of its electricity, with an excess amount helping to pay for the program.
“It’s a great project,” said Al Wiley, an 85-year-old longtime member who helped build the church’s Woodland Avenue facility in 1986. “We are an environmental and peace church, and the enthusiasm was so good, the congregation has financed the project totally with donations and individual loans.”

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The church investigated different solar systems before it settled on installing 200 panels on unused land about 350 feet from its buildings, said Chuck Messamer, the church’s building and grounds committee chairman.
A solar project team looked at putting systems on the roof of the church or a carport, he said. But the roof system would have required removing “a lot of trees that shade our building,” and the carport system “was expensive because of having to build a carport, so this was the most economical way to do it.”
The team crunched the numbers first. The church’s annual electrical cost is about $16,500.
“If you calculate what the increases would be over a 30-year period, we’d be paying about $1.1 million over that time,” Messamer said. “With this system, we’ll probably pay about $400,000 total. That’s where you really see the savings.”
In addition to the cut in utility bills, the church will sell excess power to the Modesto Irrigation District, netting about $100,000 over 10 years.
“We’ll use that to pay off the debt,” Messamer said.
The project makes sense not only fiscally, but in other ways, he said.
“Just the environmental impact is big,” he added. “It’s the equivalent of taking a lot of vehicles off the road and taking out carbon emissions. It’s basically being good stewards of our environment and good stewards of our finances, too.”

Nonprofits eligible for MID rebates

MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said the Brethren congregation is the first church in the MID’s coverage area to install solar.
“We’ve had some inquiries from other churches, but they are the first to move forward,” she said.
Nonprofit groups, including churches, are eligible for MID solar rebates, she added, which can pay 10 percent to 20 percent of a system. But because churches and other nonprofits don’t pay federal taxes, they don’t receive the federal tax credits that can pay for up to 30 percent of a solar system, “so it doesn’t always pencil out (as cost-effective) for them.”
Individuals, nonprofit organizations and business can install a solar system and sell excess energy to the MID, Williams said, but they need to get the MID’s permission first.
In the case of the Church of the Brethren, Messamer said, the MID had to approve the solar system size before the church could get bids and install it.
“They don’t want you to buy a system that makes much more energy than you use,” he said.
Williams said the MID has commercial and residential solar users that have contributed 10 megawatts to the system. “One megawatt is enough to power 1,000 homes in the winter or 300 in the summer,” she said.

‘Other churches will be interested’

The Turlock Irrigation District has 150 residential solar systems in its program, but there are no churches or nonprofit agencies on board, spokesman Herb Smart said.
That doesn’t mean others aren’t considering a move to alternative energy.
“I think other churches will be interested in this,” Wiley said.
They are.
“This is certainly a good idea and something we should look into,” said Bishop Stephen Blaire of the Stockton Diocese. He said Catholics long have pushed for an improved environment, but said the diocese has been focusing more on improving the Northern San Joaquin Valley’s air quality than installing alternative energy in parishes.
“We don’t have any renewable energy source at St. Stanislaus (Catholic Church),” said the Rev. Ramon Bejarano. “I would love to have it, if we had the resources to do it. Our electrical bill for the month of July was more than $9,000. Wow!”
Ahmad Kayello, imam for the Islamic Center of Modesto, said his community is nearly ready to begin a long-awaited building project, but has not integrated solar power into the already-approved plans.
“We’ll have to consider it, to see the cost and if we are allowed to install them,” he said.
Leaders from other churches, including Modesto’s Greek Orthodox Church of the Annunciation and First United Methodist Church, have considered a switch to solar, but site challenges along with the cost and state of today’s technology haven’t made it feasible, they said.
Customers interested in the MID’s solar rebates can visit or contact the MID’s Solar PV coordinator at (209) 526-7455 or For TID solar rebate information, call (209) 883-8222 or visit
Bee staff writer Sue Nowicki can be reached at or (209) 578-2012.
Source: Modesto Bee (

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