Effort to power Rockport church with solar panels long time in the making | Business

ROCKPORT — An effort to power the Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport’s church building, all based in the power of the sun, is well underway.

Earlier this week, workers climbed long ladders at the historic church at 4 Cleaves St. to install solar panels.

The work, which was preceded by the Rockport Historical Commission’s approval of the project, first included placing brackets on the structure’s roof. Then the solar panels themselves were added to the building.

The Woburn- and Westfield-based SunBug Solar company began the work July 13.

According to the church’s Jerry Sharfstein, the project was expected to be completed this week, and the congregation is pleased and excited it is coming to fruition.

“We are committed to preserving our historic structure but doing so with a focus on sustainability, from both an environmental and financial perspective,” he said. “The solar project was funded by UUSR members and friends and will allow us to save thousands of dollars annually.”

Sharfstein said the savings accrued will allow the church to attend to the many needs of the historic building and the broader community.

Church officials have worked to get the solar panels placed on the roof for several years, he said, adding the improved technology and appearance of the devices made it possible to get approval from the Rockport Historical Commission. The church was built in 1829 and the 93-foot steeple was added in 1867.

“The panels being installed are all black, low glare and will sit close to the roof,” said Sharfstein. “This makes them much less noticeable than solar panels available five to 10 years ago.”

In addition, Sharfstein pointed to the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year in Congress that permits churches and non-profit agencies to receive the same fiscal benefits as those who pay taxes.

“The USSR will be receiving a check from the federal government for 30 percent of the entire project,” he said. “This made the installation of panels financially feasible for our small congregation.”

Eva Korpi, a longtime church member, was part of a church group years ago that considered solar panels.

“We wanted to have solar panels about 20 years ago,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful and it makes me feel so good. I think it’s heavenly.”

The church’s “Solar Team,” in a bulletin to church members, said it learned the roof is “prime solar real estate” and can generate enough power to cover 150% of the church’s current electrical needs.

Ken Pham, a Sunbug electrician installing the solar panels, estimated the cost of the project would run to $52,263. The job, he said, would likely result in at least 40 panels being installed.

“I think green energy is important,” he said. “After the initial investment, it pays for the property owner.”

Once the project is completed, Sharfstein said church officials hope to add energy-efficient heat pumps to heat and cool the building’s administrative offices.

“We hope our project is a model for the town of Rockport and other property owners interested in putting solar panels on their roofs,” said Sharfstein. “We did quite a bit of research before choosing a contractor and, as a result, we have learned a lot about the technology and feasibility of solar panels. We’ve also become a model for getting approval from the Historic District Commission.”

Sharfstein said members of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Rockport are now available as a resource for others in the community hoping to go solar.

According to Sharfstein, Unitarian Universalism affirms and promotes seven principles, including the seventh: “Respect for the interdependent web of all existence of which we are a part.”

“Environmental justice and stewardship have been foundational principles of Unitarian and Universalist religious practice for decades,” he said. “By installing solar and reducing our reliance on fossil fuels, we are taking a significant step toward fulfilling that principle.”

Stephen Hagan can be reached at 978-675-2708 or at shagan@northofboston.com.

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