Just over a year ago the St. Thomas of Canterbury Episcopal Church in Smithtown started kicking around the idea of installing a new roof. At the time, a young female member saw the project as an opportunity to install solar panels as well. Hearing the idea, Bob Reimertz, vestry member and the head of building and grounds for the church, had an all to familiar reaction to going solar.
“I said to myself, ‘you got to be kidding me. That’s like 60,000 dollars,’” recalled Mr. Reimertz. “Then I started doing research. The more research I did, finding out about the rebates, I said, ‘we can do this and never pay electric again.’”
With Mr. Reimertz’s legwork, and funding from the Episcopal Diocese of Long Island, St. Thomas of Canterbury took action on never paying for electric again with the installation of a 48-panel, 10,000 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system on the south side of the church. After more than a week of dealing with foul weather, the panels were raised to the roof Wednesday, April 5.
“This is a fantastic thing for our church, for Smithtown, and for the surrounding community,” Mr. Reimertz said. “I figured out that the amount of energy in one year’s time we will save equals the amount of fumes a car emits after driving 12,000 miles.”
According to Mr. Reimertz, the project cost a little over $55,000, just about half of which ($27,500) is covered by a Long Island Power Authority (LIPA) solar rebate. Currently, LIPA offers rebates of $1.75 per kilowatt up to 10,000 kilowatts through its solar pioneer program. Since churches are exempt from state and federal taxes and not eligible for solar project tax rebates, St. Thomas of Canterbury received an enhanced rebate rate from LIPA of $2.75 per kilowatt.
Based on his own calculations, Mr. Reimertz said the system will be able to produce enough electricity to fully cover the church’s annual electrical needs. If there is excess, he said the church will consider selling electric back to LIPA via net metering.
“They give you approximately half the money back,” Mr. Reimertz said of LIPA’s net metering policy, an arrangement where the utility buys back electricity from solar energy producers. “I think it’s a good thing they’ve been doing.”
The church’s roof sits four degrees off due south, and is not effected by any trees or shading. Both are ideal conditions for installing a solar system.
“Optimum is directly facing south,” said Ed Rolko of Go Solar, the contracting company installing the system. “This one is perfect.”
Mr. Reimertz said he met with four to five contractors before selecting Go Solar, a Riverhead-based company with 30 years of experience. He said he decided on Go Solar because of the warranty the company offers with regard to the project’s inverters (the piece of equipment that converts the sun’s direct current of electricity into alternating current).
“The inverters have a warranty for ten years,” Mr. Reimertz said. “Other companies had warranties of only one to three years. That was an easy [choice].”
The finished solar array is roughly 60-feet long and 13-feet high. There is a total of 12 rows of four, 210-watt Kyocera panels, each measuring 59.1 inches tall and 39 inches wide, all covered under a 25-year warranty. Though the installation took a little more than a week, Mr. Rolko said with good weather the project would have been completed quicker.
“Typically a job like this will take four days,” he said. “That’s with a nice day, every day.”
In addition to the solar system, the church is in the midst of installing an elevator inside its facility. Vestry member Bill Weller said the elevator will be beneficial for congregation members who attend the church’s outreach programs downstairs. He said the elevator project has been in the works for over eight years.
“A lot of it was donations coming through and we just took it from there,” Mr. Weller said of funding the elevator. “We had to go through the motions of dealing with the contract and it all just came to be when Bob [Reimertz] was looking at the solar panels.”
At press time, the contractor, Murtha Construction, was framing out the elevator. Mr. Weller said the church is hoping to have the project fully functional by Easter. When it is, the electricity to operate the elevator will be free of charge.