Richard Fowler is a lifelong member of First United Methodist Church in Ferndale, which installed 64 solar panels on its roof in 2017. Richard calls his passion and enthusiasm for renewable energy “a form of evangelism.”
Growing up on the heels of the Great Depression, Richard was accustomed to saving money, and being able to generate his own energy has been a lifelong interest. After installing solar panels on his own home, he connected with a fellow congregant who had experience installing solar water heaters. They both started floating proposals for solar panels to the church.
Richard says that the hardest part about adopting solar as a congregation is getting over the mental barrier. Members of the church were knowledgeable enough about green living and climate change, and were willing to do something about it, so long as it wouldn’t be too much trouble or too costly. Initially, they heard a lot of “Sure, it’s a nice idea, but it’s too expensive.”
The job for Richard and his colleague became evangelizing and assuring people that this really could be done and done affordably.
Then Richard heard about Michigan IPL’s solar initiative, which was meant help houses of worship install solar with no money down, from the Congregational Church of Birmingham (another Michigan IPL member). Learning about the feasibility of this type of financing helped the congregation start taking the possibility of solar more seriously.
When the church finally decided to move forward with the project, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The process was supposed to take around two months, but it ended up taking more than a year. Delays with contractor scheduling, the municipal building department and inspector approval (solar and net metering still being relatively new things) left Richard and the church feeling discouraged. Nevertheless, they persisted.
It’s estimated that the church’s 20 kW solar array, which is anchored to the roof with concrete blocks (i.e., no penetration), will generate enough energy to meet about 1/4 of the building’s electrical needs each year.
The solar array is owned by a private investor introduced through Srinergy, the contractor that installed the system. The investor was able to take advantage of the 30% federal Investment Tax Credit and, in effect, pass on the benefit to the church. The church has entered into a power purchase agreement with the investor, according which it will pay a specified amount per kWh generated.
Richard’s advice: “Stick with it! This is the way of the future. Let’s hope our difficulties can help smooth the way for those who follow.”