It started with a vision 10 years in the making. When the church leaders of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin Texas came together to discuss a solar system for the church, there was a much bigger picture in mind. This wasn’t a project about saving money on energy costs. The addition of the solar panel system at St. David’s was another milestone towards the church’s value of leading the community of downtown Austin in environmental consciousness and conservation of resources.
“We have not used Styrofoam cups or dishes in our food service operation for over 10 years now,” says Terry Nathan, Church Administrator at St. David’s. “We have been actively recycling everything from batteries to CDs to reading glasses for the entire community. And our operations capture all of our waste paper, cooking oil, food products, and coffee grinds to be reused in bio-friendly applications.”
Technology For Community Engagement
St. David’s has a rich history of using technology as an instrument for outreach within its community. A quick browse of their Facebook page shows a host of community centric activities beyond traditional weekend services. The church regularly hosts concerts, talks, and book signings. St. David’s “Holy Grounds” coffee and bookstore is a staple for the local business community, serving up a place for workers to grab a cup of joe. St. David’s facilities also host a day school, homeless resource center, off-site classes and more.
The parking garage, topped with a solar array installation, is also a community resource offering downtown workers monthly parking, bicycle storage, and charging stations for electric cars. With the downtown Austin community in mind, the solar system provides power to offset up to 75% of the power needed for church activities on low load days.
A Number of Austin Firsts
The solar installation at St. David’s is the first urban solar system in the downtown Austin city limits. Austin City Council Member Chris Riley touts the solar project as an “achievement [that] is the latest chapter in St. David’s long history of contributions of the Austin community.” As a certified GreenFaith Sanctuary, St. David’s is a platinum level City of Austin’s Green Business Partner. St. David’s is also the first downtown church to install a campus-wide energy monitoring and scheduling system. “We do everything we can to make our operations as clean as possible,” says Nathan.
Conquering Risks With Persistent Planning
At conception, the project appeared to be too risky. In many urban areas, the infrastructure isn’t yet capable of allowing energy to flow into the grid from local sources. In downtown Austin, an energy producer of this size would cause issues with the one-way network especially on days when the more energy is produced than is needed. That’s where Meridian Solar came in. “After the sale, Meridian’s engineers and management worked with us every step of the way as we negotiated some very tricky issues with Austin Energy,” says Nathan. “Without their help and expertise, the project would not have happened.” The result was nothing short of excellence, leading the way for other churches and businesses consider solar solutions. “By helping resolve difficult issues related to our electric grid, St. David’s has moved us closer to our goals for local solar generation, and has demonstrated once again the value of its longtime partnership with the City” says Riley.
A Model For Churches Across The Country
“Through our solar energy project, we are fulfilling God’s call to be stewards of creation,” says Reverend David Boyd, St. David’s Rector. “In addition, as we save significant money on our utility costs, those resources enable us to fulfill other aspects of the Gospel as we care for those in the Austin community, including our homeless brothers and sisters and local service agencies.”
The panels have performed as expected since their installation. There is even a public link to their solar installation’s real-time web monitoring dashboard. “We have had no problems whatsoever, and we have been extremely pleased with the system’s performance,” says Nathan. “In the end, we timed the project so that we were able to get the lowest possible financing, the highest possible rebate credits, and the best possible technology all to come together so that the panels paid for themselves in the shortest possible timeframe.”
The solar system at St. David’s is indeed a pioneering effort for the church at large. While corporations and municipalities have been making significant investment in alternative energy in recent years the church lags far behind in both energy conservation and investment. One thing that we can take away from St. David’s example is that the church will only take conservation and investment seriously after church leadership prioritizes the principle of stewardship. The first step towards energy stewardship is to get the conversation at your church started. Is your church talking energy?
About St. David’s Episcopal Church: St. David’s, established in 1848, has approximately 2,400 members and offers seven services each Sunday and prayer services during the week. The church, which occupies an entire city block in downtown Austin, supports the Austin community by serving homeless neighbors, providing grants to local non-profits, and organizing volunteers to support local projects like Habitat for Humanity and Wildfire Relief efforts. Learn more at www.stdave.org
About Meridian Solar: Meridian Solar specializes in the development, engineering, construction, and financing of high quality solar electric projects. Blue-chip commercial clients, State and Federal entities, non-profit organizations, and utility providers repeatedly count on Meridian Solar when considering renewable energy for their facilities. With more than a decade of experience, comprised of hundreds of installations totaling 39 MW of generating capacity, Meridian Solar is truly a seasoned veteran in the burgeoning solar industry. Learn more at www.meridiansolar.com.
Check out more of Al Braden’s photos of the solar project on Facebook.