Rolling Hills Community Church and local energy firms work together to go green

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - A NW Photon Energy employee installs rooftop solar panels, much like those that are now on the roof of Rolling Hills Community Church in Tualatin. by: PHOTO BY INTERFACE ENGINEERING - Rolling Hills Community Church, in TualatinGuy Anderson wanted the Rolling Hills Community Church to set an example by practicing what he calls “energy stewardship.”

Anderson, part of the 2,400-member Tualatin megachurch, believed it was high time for the church to go green — and he knew the stately church’s expanse of flat roof space made it prime real estate for solar paneling.

That’s just what the large congregation did when it recently installed a 1,000-kilowatt photovoltaic system on the church’s roof.

Anderson is construction project manager for Lake Oswego’s NW Photon Energy, a firm that designs and installs photovoltaic solar power systems. He’s aware of the financial incentives that inspire home owners and public companies to switch to solar. Federal tax credits can amount to 30 percent of the cost of implementing that type of green energy. And for businesses, long-term depreciation schedules provide significant return on investment.

But Anderson also knew the cost of going solar could be significantly higher for tax-exempt organizations such as Rolling Hills Community Church.

That didn’t mean the church would have to give up on its green dream, however. It just required some creative partnerships.

For organizations such as Rolling Hills, a feed-in tariff program can make the switch to solar more viable. The three-year-old program pays participating Portland General Electric and Pacific Power customers a set rate for the solar-generated power they produce — energy which is then routed to the electric grid.

Rolling Hills applied to the popular program twice before it was selected through the program’s lottery this past spring.

Bettering the earth

With a spot in the feed-in tariff program secured, NW Photon Energy proposed a 15-year facility lease agreement that would pay the church for use of its roof space. The actual solar system would be owned and operated by 3CSolar, a company NW Photon Energy President Kirk Cameron co-owns. 3CSolar’s status as an limited liability corporation made it eligible for the federal tax incentives that weren’t available to the church.

by: SUBMITTED PHOTO - Solar panels like the ones shown here have been installed on Rolling Hills Community Churchs rooftop, as part of an agreement between the church and local solar energy firm NW Photon Energy.“A lot of people use purchase power agreements,” Cameron said. “This is kind of a new twist.”

Cameron calls this a “third-party approach” that gives the church the opportunity to pursue a renewable energy infrastructure while collecting revenue from 3CSolar. For the next 15 years, the church will function as a leaseholder. At the end of the contract term, Rolling Hills Community Church can purchase its own rooftop solar system at a reduced rate, or it can continue leasing the space and buy back the energy it produces at 50 percent of market value.

Meanwhile, Rolling Hills Community Church can pride itself on benefiting from power the church produces.

“All the power we generate (from the roof system) goes into the grid, goes into the meter, then it goes right back into Rolling Hill’s consumption,” Cameron said. “They’re using all the power we’re generating. That system offsets about a quarter of the electricity that they consume.”

NW Photon Energy designed and installed the 1,000-kilowatt rooftop photovoltaic system in place atop the church.

Cameron estimates that Rolling Hills Community Church will collect more than $50,000 in rental fees during its lease term.

For Anderson, the project demonstrates his congregation’s commitment to “bettering the Earth” while providing a model for other tax-exempt nonprofits that also wish to “go green.”

“The church is setting a great example for nonprofit institutions of all sizes to follow,” Anderson said.

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