Up on the Roof, TI's a Powerhouse.........posted Dec 10, 2012
by Jay P. Goldman, Bulletin assistant editor
Tikvat Israel has become a solar energy producer, now that a series of 350 solar panels have been installed across the roof of the synagogue.
With the panels expected to become operational on or by Jan. 1, Tikvat Israel has become one of 12 religious-affiliated organizations in the Washington region, but only the second synagogue, to install a solar photovoltaic electricity system on its property.
Aerial view of TI’s roof showing location of solar photovoltaic panels.
The solar modules, weighing 45 lbs. apiece, each generate 305 watts. In total, TI’s rooftop installation will produce 120,000 kilowatt hours of electricity per year, accounting for 48 percent of the synagogue’s electricity consumption.
Solbright Renewable Energy, based in South Carolina, owns the solar panels and will sell back to TI the electricity produced at a lower rate than if it were delivered by PEPCO under what’s known as a power purchase agreement. Savings in energy costs at Tikvat Israel will be about $2,000 a year.
Solar photovoltaic panel
The price charged for the electricity produced by the solar panels will be adjusted each year, reflecting changes in the rate of the current grid-supplied electricity. Savings at TI will remain constant whether electricity prices go up or down.
The rooftop installation includes the use of inverters, which are devices that convert the direct current from the solar panels to alternating current.
The synagogue is not spending any of its own funds to install the system. Under the power purchase agreement, TI will take ownership of the rooftop modules from Solbright in 20 years.
The contractor responsible for designing and installing the panels is Kenergy Solar, based in the Takoma section of the District of Columbia. The firm has been successful in securing financing for smaller-scale solar energy projects on commercial and residential properties.
Ashley Shrader, who serves as director of commercial project development at Kenergy Solar, said houses of worship often do not have the capacity to secure the financing to undertake such projects.
"It is difficult to engage investors for small commercial-sized solar projects such as Tikvat Israel,” she said. “We have found that synagogues and other faith-based organizations are interested in both the environmental and financial benefits of hosting a renewable energy system. We believe they make great candidates for solar projects -- and are attracting the interests of a growing number of investors and project owners.”
Shrader said her firm was pleased to collaborate with the synagogue. “Tikvat has a great roof, and we worked with [synagogue representatives] over several months to discuss the terms of the installation and financing,” she said.
Solbright had a financial incentive to complete the project by Dec. 31. Under federal guidelines, a solar energy investor earns a bonus depreciation in Year 1 accounting for 50 percent of the project’s cost. The firm also is eligible to receive a 30 percent federal tax credit for the installation.
Solar photovoltaic panel
TI’s solar energy panels represent the 12th installation at a faith-based organization in the Washington metropolitan area and the largest so far in terms of how much energy is being generated. TI joins Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation as the only area synagogues generating solar energy, according to the Greater Washington Interfaith Power and Light.
The solar panels atop TI will reduce carbon dioxide emissions by an estimated 66 tons a year, according to Kenergy Solar. “This is equivalent to removing 11 automobiles from the road or balancing out the carbon emissions of five single-family homes or reducing coal burning by 64,000 lbs. a year,” said Art Fabel, who co-chairs the Environmental Committee at TI.
Fabel was instrumental in bringing the project to the shul over the past year. As TI’s coordinator of the project, he insisted on the use of domestically produced rooftop panels. Most solar panels today are made in China, which has been accused of “dumping” its products in the U.S. marketplace at below-market rates. (TI’s panels were produced by SolarWorld, a manufacturer in Hillsboro, Ore., since 1975.)
Ken Stadlin, president of Kenergy Solar, said TI’s board of directors “was motivated to provide a host location for a solar array that would generate clean energy and save them money on their monthly utility bills.”
He added: “The savings will help Tikvat Israel manage costs and the system will demonstrate their commitment to environmental stewardship for decades to come. It's an honor to be able to help make this happen," Stadlin said.