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Their church faith extends skyward and goes solar

Pastor Chris Myers is shown outside First Congregational United Church of Christ, 110 N. 3rd St., where workers have installed new solar panels. The church is working with Energy Concepts Inc. which subcontracted with Steiner Electric, and River Falls Municipal Utilities to install the panels, with the help of a WPPI grant.

Adding solar panels to the roof may not be the first thing that springs to mind when you think of an act of faith, but for one River Falls church, it is indeed just that.

“Faith is not just something that exists inside your mind, it’s a way of living in the world,” said Pastor Chris Myers of River Falls First Congregational United Church of Christ.  “One of those ways is using the gifts that God has given us wisely, and this is a wonderful way of doing that.”

First Congregational’s 54 new solar panels will produce enough energy over their roughly 30-year lifetime to save the church about $120,000 in utility costs. And that will put a big dent in the church’s carbon footprint.

“Putting those things up there is the equivalent of planting 486 trees,” Myers said.

Myers said the idea for the solar panels was first brought up when First Congregational was expanded in 2011. But the technology was still changing quite rapidly so the church decided to put the idea on hold for a while.

“This past spring, we revisited it to see if the technology had changed enough, and if the economics were going to work,” Meyers said. “And lo and behold, they had. Plus WPPI energy...was offering rebates to nonprofits.”

Meyers said Wisconsin Public Power Inc. (WPPI)’s grant made it affordable for his church to install the solar panels.

Others are able to get a tax credit or tax rebate for installing solar panels, but as a nonprofit the UCC church isn’t eligible for that.

The total project cost is $67,000, but grants and rebates will cover almost half of that cost.

The WPPI grant covers $25,000. River Falls Municipal Utility granted an additional $5,000, and the Focus on Energy Solar Rebate will provide another $2,400.

RFMU’s Mike Noreen said the utility has worked hard to make programs that specifically address the needs of nonprofits.

“We're not going to get in the way of renewables, but rather embrace the technology and make it possible for our customers to choose their fuel options,” Noreen said. “We know how important nonprofits are to the community, so we do everything we can to help them succeed.

“It's a pleasure to make such partnerships that help make all of River Falls better.”

Many members of the UCC congregation have also donated money to help pay for the solar panels.

The church just finished its fifth week of collecting money for the solar panels. Myers said about $21,000 has been collected so far, and there’s only about $10,000 left to go.

For the complete story, see the June 11 print issue of the River Falls Journal.

Gretta Stark

Gretta Stark has been a reporter for the River Falls Journal since July of 2013. She previously worked as a reporter for the New Richmond News from June 2012 to July 2013. She holds a BA in Print and Electronic Media from Wartburg College.

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