Although solar power can lower your congregation's electric bills and possibly generate income, there are some details that you need to consider.
Here are some tips to help with your decision:
1. Long term viability: Technology is changing rapidly - this is especially the case as we are seeing a green economy develop. What's the life of this project? Will parts for the panels be available in the years to come (see #9 below).
2. Determine ownership: A church might lease its roof to a company that will own, operate, and maintain a solar array (that doesn't diminish the ministry's exposure). Your church should explore the Internet and research "paint on solar" before committing to a 20 year contract, that may be obsolete within a few years.
3. Determine placement: Will solar panels be installed on the roof, on parking canopies, or on the ground? The higher the panels are located, the lower the risk of theft or vandalism. Our agency sees more than one theft claim to solar panels each month, usually due to theft of copper.
4. Consider the church's contractual liability: If your church enters an agreement to sell excess power to a local power company, sometimes there may be a penalty if the solar array doesn't generate enough energy (due to weather conditions, poor maintenance, damage, etc). Insurance may be available to cover this exposure unique to ministries with solar panels.
5. Responsibility: Determine who is responsible for the equipment in the event of a power surge. Is the church responsible to replace the panels? Many insurance policies won't cover this.
6. Tax issues: A church that earns money from selling clean-energy credits or providing excess power to a utility company may need to report proceeds to the Internal Revenue Service as unrelated business income.
7. Consider fencing: Ensure that any equipment on ministry property, that gathers the solar power and transmits it to the local electric utility, is properly enclosed, locked, and marked with appropriate warnings.
8. Check contractor's qualifications: Lots of fly by night solar companies out there. Be sure that you are working with a qualified contractor before allowing him to install solar panels on your property. The contractor should:
Be properly licensed.
Have at least five years of experience.
Be in good standing with the Better Business Bureau.
Provide references from solar energy projects of a similar scale.
Provide a certificate of insurance naming the ministry as an additional insured on his general liability and workers' compensation policy.
9. Buy some spare parts: The life of solar panels can be more than 20 years and the technology is changing rapidly. We have found that many churches who invested in panels as recently as 2012 are finding that finding replacement parts is like trying to buy computer parts for an outdated computer. To keep your investment paying off in the years to come, consider buying some spare panels.
For more information on things that should be considered when debating solar panels for your ministry.
California Interfaith Power & Light - This organization works closely with congregations to implement solar energy.