A few years back the church had an engineering company take a look at our facility and grounds, from the roofs to building infrastructure. They gave St. Luke’s a report detailing what they thought needed attention. One immediate need was to have the parking lot resurfaced and in the near future our heating and cooling systems would need attention. The parking lot was resurfaced and we also had the parking lot lighting upgraded to LEDs, as directed by Bloomington City Hall.
A year ago, an energy audit of the building was conducted by a non-profit that works with Xcel Energy. This report identified areas for energy savings. One area is LED lighting, which St. Luke’s has done having replaced lighting in the Parking Lot, Sanctuary and Fellowship Hall with LED lights. Other areas included more energy efficient heating and cooling systems, building automation of the heating/cooling system controls. Simple things like weather stripping and energy savers on the A/C units that saves St. Luke’s $300 per month in the summer on our cooling costs. From these reports a long term plan was developed regarding building infrastructure.
A building/energy committee was formed early this year with Mark Hagelin, Jean Lingen, David Carpenter, Larry Nelson, and me. The committee was charged with identifying, prioritizing and pricing infrastructure needs. We also took on investigating the practicality of solar for St. Luke’s. The committee gathered data, reviewed numerous proposals and pricing for all major infrastructure projects as well as for a solar option.
The end result of their work is two proposals (boiler upgrade and solar panels) approved by the Council to be presented to the Congregation at an August 30th Congregational meeting after the 10:00 drive in service. Three informational meetings were scheduled with a final Zoom Meeting at 7:00 August 26th.
This past Sunday was the first informational meeting regarding the two council approved proposals. Fourteen people attended the after-service meeting. The two proposals are quite different and excellent questions were brought up and discussed.
The boiler proposal is related to the first of potential infrastructure updates needed to keep our building functional for the next 100 years. The current 52-year-old boiler is inefficient (60% efficient) and takes a lot of care to keep working. It was installed as a backup to the primary boiler that died years ago (so currently there is no backup).
We have been very fortunate that Mark Hagelin joined our church a number of years ago and has been willing to invest his time and knowledge of boiler heating systems (he is a licensed boiler maker) to babysit the system all these years.
During the heating season, it’s not uncommon for Mark to visit the boiler and tweak it three or four times a week. In the past, this was hired out at a cost of $2,500 to $3,000 a year. By the way, a boilermaker is billed at $139/hour. There is also some “grandfathering” of repairs by inspectors that causes some concern for the longevity of the current system.
Discussion and questions focused on the proposed approximately $90,000 replacement. We reviewed the system redundancy, a system with 4 redundant heat exchanges that operate independently, but together as needed to heat the church. Installation process from removing asbestos, cutting up old boiler and installing the new system and piping to the existing hot water circulation system. Estimated energy savings for the 96% efficient system is $3,000 to $4,000 a year. The committee also visited sites using the recommended boiler system to get a firsthand look at installations.
The solar proposal is not an infrastructure project. This proposal focuses on offsetting carbon-producing electricity with “free” energy from the sun. There was agreement that solar is “good”, joining other faith communities to become Green, being good stewards of God’s creation. Questions focused on how the system is installed, maintenance, longevity of panels and financing, as well as timing of the project.
Installation would be on the newer church roofs and the roofing contractor has been engaged in making sure the roof warranty is not compromised. Other solar users interviewed indicated there was no ongoing maintenance. The panels are warranted for 25 years and we have data that suggests a much longer system life. Timing is related to incentives and grants available for projects this year that diminish or change in the future.
The proposed 75,000 kwh system will produce approximately 94,000 kwh per year to offset the 151,000 kwh St. Luke’s uses annually (62%). This will reduce our current $18,500 annual electric bill by approximately $11,100 per year. As electric rates rise savings grow. The solar project is self-funded in the respect that financing (loan) of the panels is paid for by the savings in electric costs.
Moving forward with solar is dependent on congregational approval, arranging financing (financing cost offset by electric bill savings), engineering review, and Xcel Energy approval. If all is approved this year, installation could start in April or May next year.
There was also discussion regarding any spending at this time due to uncertainties related to COVID and impact on long term church finances. There will be an update regarding that at the Congregational Meeting. There was good discussion and very appropriate.
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