Sun is nature’s free gift to all – Opinion – Rockford Register Star

Humans have been fascinated by the sun since the beginning of their existence. They have worshipped the sun and been terrified by it. Our ancestors recognized that the sun provides a key component for most life on Earth. Its energy allows vegetation to grow and sustain life. Now, science allows us to harvest the sun’s energy and efficiently convert it to electrical power.

In Freeport, a few institutions have led the way in harvesting the sun’s energy by installing solar energy systems. Perhaps you have driven by St. John United Church of Christ on South Park Boulevard and noticed the solar panels on the church’s roof? Or driven by Highland Community College and seen the ground solar panel array? Installations at both institutions went smoothly and both are pleased with ongoing operations. To reach this point, planning committees at each institution had to deal with communicating the rationale for pursuing solar energy (“Why are we doing this?”), educating decision-makers (“How does this work?”), and presenting finances both short and long term.

According to the Rev. Hank Fairman of St. John UCC, Green Team member Hugh Knapp started the ball rolling. A portion of the roof needed repair, so timing was good to consider solar panel installations. After an education campaign, the congregation agreed that the project aligned with God’s “creation care” teachings and reflected their commitment to environmental justice.

An early challenge involved city roof wiring requirements from a somewhat outdated building codebook that predates solar panels. By March, the 65-kilowatt-hour peak production system was operational, making St. John UCC the first church in Illinois to use 100% self-generating solar power — receiving abundant attention (even national!) and instilling a sense of pride within the congregation. The system will produce enough electricity to cover the annual congregation demand that costs $10,000 a year. With Solar Renewable Energy Credits distributed over five years and a ComEd incentive paying over half the capital costs, the system’s return on investment is less than four years, much faster than the average Illinois residential system period of 8.8 years. Donations and gifts from St. John UCC members and a group known as Creation Justice have reduced this payback period to two years.

In 2017, HCC staff embarked on a crusade to persuade the board of trustees, faculty and administrators to embrace a photovoltaic system on campus. To gain their confidence, questions about energy efficiency, maintenance (including snow removal), and finances needed to be addressed by an independent engineer. After initial resistance, HCC installed an eco-friendly, sustainable, 99-kilowatt-hour ground array of solar panels that became operational in April 2019. The system not only serves as an energy-saving project for the nursing wing, but is an effective teaching tool for HCC students. They can learn “hands on” about factors that impact the array’s energy output.

A display in the HCC science building hallway (open to the public) shows information about the system’s efficiency and calculations of CO2 emission decreases compared with electrical energy gained from coal. Alan Nowicki, biology instructor and proponent of HCC’s solar energy pursuits, excitedly shared that the environmental investment in the array of panels has reduced CO2 emissions by 250,000 pounds over the first 15 months of operation, demonstrating the benefits of a sustainable, abundant, renewable (and free) energy source like the sun. On the financial side, HCC also received tax credits and a ComEd incentive to offset capital costs. Return on investment is calculated to be eight years.

These two solar projects show that our community can contribute in a positive way to the global trend toward sustainable energy production. Hats off to St. John UCC and HCC for being innovators in Freeport. We hope they inspire others to follow their lead. The Rev. Fairman offers advice: Be patient … the industry is still growing to meet the need/capacity; allow time to see the utility savings; and advocate.

Susanne Borchert (freeport_pretzel@yahoo.com) is a member of the Environmental Study Group in Freeport (www.facebook.com/esgroup32)

Source: https://www.rrstar.com/opinion/20200801/sun-is-naturersquos-free-gift-to-all

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