As part of a mission of stewardship of the environment and church resources, an effort is underway to bring solar energy to First Presbyterian Church. A preliminary agreement was recently signed with Hawk-Attollo of Peoria, Illinois, to plan, develop and build a solar array in the northwest corner of the church property, which will allow First Pres to purchase clean, renewable energy at a reduced price.
Hawk-Attollo’s financial investors fund the cost of constructing and maintaining the solar field and are able to take advantage of the investment tax credits for which non-profit organizations, like churches, are not eligible. This business model means that First Pres will have no up-front costs for planning, constructing, and operating the solar array and connecting it into the building’s electrical system and the utility power grid.
Once the ground mount solar array is installed (approximately 200’ X 130’), First Pres will purchase most of its electricity directly from Hawk Attollo at well below what the church currently pays per kilowatt-hour (k-Wh). If it chooses, the church can raise funds for an optional pre-payment which further lowers the monthly rate paid for electricity under the purchase agreement with Hawk-Attollo. That money could be raised through donations specifically for the project from church members or other fundraisers.
The solar array will have the generating capacity to provide approximately 80 percent of the church’s electricity needs. The connection to the utility power grid will remain in place so there will never be a disruption in electrical service on church property due to nightfall or cloudy days. Some power will still be purchased from Corn Belt Energy at the current market rate.
Hawk Attollo LLC will install low maintenance, pollinator-friendly vegetation around the ground array to eliminate the need for mowing between the rows of solar panels. The company will also bear the cost of maintaining the array and associated equipment during the 20-year term of the PPA. At the end of the 20-year contract, First Pres takes ownership of the system, and Hawk-Attollo will continue to work with the church on any maintenance needs. First Pres also has the option to purchase the system outright at any time before the end of the 20-year contract and no longer pay the power purchase agreement rate.
Members of the Property Committee and Green Team were introduced to Jason Hawksworth of Hawk-Attollo in August of 2017. That introduction was facilitated by Rev. Cindy Shepherd, the Central Illinois coordinator for Faith in Place, an organization that helps faith communities further connect with and care for the environment and local communities. Hawk-Attollo has worked with other houses of worship in Illinois on similar solar projects with PPA’s.
Session members were kept apprised of the ongoing talks with Hawk-Attollo and have been supportive throughout the process. In August of 2020, Session gave approval for moving forward with a preliminary agreement to get the project started. Hawk-Attollo staff will present the project to the Town of Normal Planning Commission at its meeting on January 7, 2021. Pending Commission approval, the project would go before the Normal Town Council for final approval.
Even with signed agreements and Town approval, an exact construction timeframe is not currently available. The project must be placed on Illinois’ adjustable block grant program (Illinois Shines) waitlist for solar projects undertaken by companies – like Hawk-Attollo -- that are looking to take advantage of solar renewable energy credits (SREC’s).
Property and Green Team members will continue to keep Session and the congregation updated on progress toward bringing this exciting project to completion. Solar energy supports the values of sustainability and will help to reduce the church’s carbon footprint. It is a tangible and visible witness to our mission of caring for God’s creation.