For-Profit Solar Group Sets Sights on Churches, Schools

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In University of Maryland, the roof of the Church of the Brethren is adorned not with religious symbols, but with solar panels.

The group responsible for the solar panel installation, the for-profit University Park Solar, includes members of the church’s congregation like Don Monroe. “In this church,” Monroe said, “there’s a real sort of consciousness of what we call ‘care for creation,’” adding that solar energy “very much fits into that idea.”

How the solar panels came to be installed on the church is as much a story of innovative entrepreneurship as it is about “care for creation.” President and founder of UPCS Dave Brosch formed the company as a way for residents of the city to promote renewable energy without incurring excessive personal expense.

The organization first considered filing for non-profit status, but quickly realized that the complicated process of fundraising and grant applications was too taxing on the community’s time and resources.

Green Investments Draw More Appeal

The group also discovered that renewable energy projects had more appeal to the community when offered as an investment. For a year, Brosch scoured the neighborhoods of University Park, searching for a roof that would be a good candidate for solar panels. The church turned out to be one of the few suitable structures.

“Our neighborhood is filled with trees,” Brosch said, “and we have a lot of houses that are not oriented in the right way.”

In a three-day period, Maryland solar company Standard Solar installed a 22.77-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of the church, using 230-watt Sharp panels, made in the United States. The PV system is expected to generate over 30,000 kilowatt hours each year, enough to meet almost all of the church’s electrical needs. It cost $130,000, before rebates and tax credits.

An Eight-Percent Return on Investment

University Park Solar members contributing at least $2,000 were allowed to participate in the project. Member Lisa Nau invested $10,000.

“I guess you would say that bought me one-thirteenth of this power plant,” Nau said. Nau expects to recoup her investment in 7 years, and will then begin to receive a share of the profits. Nau is expecting an 8 percent return over the life of the system.

Pleased with the company’s success so far, University Park Solar is looking for more rooftops. They are currently in talks with another church, a synagogue and a school.

They are just one of many community groups sprouting up around the country with an eye on generating extra income as well as renewable energy. Some are crowdsourcing models like UPCS’s. Others are DIY “barn-raising” projects. Communities across the nation are proving that going green can add green to pocketbooks, too.

Photo: Karen Carmichael for Maryland Newsline


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