By RaeAnn Slaybaugh
Back in 2017, Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church in Phoenix had already contemplated adding covered parking, in the form of solar structures, to its campus for some time.
It was (and still is) a forward-thinking move not only for a house of worship, but for the area-at-large: when finished, it would be among the largest solar-covered parking installations in downtown Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the nation.
Naturally, a handful of providers approached the church about the project. The most comprehensive proposal came from Phoenix-based Scout Solar.
“In their presentation, they were very thorough in their evaluation of the amount of solar that could be generated on our campus,” says Elder Richard Yarbough, the church administrator. “They had a better assessment of our energy needs and provided us with a clear roadmap of where our savings would come from and how it would evolve over time.”
In the end, Yarbough and his team were excited to learn that they could not only provide sought-after covered parking to churchgoers — a huge benefit in one of the warmest cities in the U.S. — but also realize savings of 30% to 35% on their summertime peak energy bills.
“That’s no small amount here,” he points out.
Now, several years later, these freed-up funds have substantially reduced the budget allocation for other building maintenance, Yarbough adds.
“Our buildings are approaching the 20-year mark. So, replacing air-conditioning units is quite a costly endeavor for which we had budgeted,” he says. “But we were able to redirect monies for that purpose that otherwise would’ve gone to paying energy costs.”
The “wow” factor
Perhaps more important, Yarbough says the congregation was “elated” to finally have some covered parking on campus.
“It’s a reward for those who come early to service,” he laughs. “And they were happy that we were able to save as much as we’ve reported saving [to the congregation] due to the addition of the solar.”
The installation even provided some additional lighting on campus, as the solar structures are lit underneath.
Because Pilgrim Rest sometimes allows overflow parking for the large city park next door, church leaders have also received positive feedback from the surrounding community about the structures, particularly regarding the fact that the church is providing some clean energy.
A hands-off process
The payoffs were clearly worth the effort — but as it turns out, there wasn’t much effort required of church leaders throughout the installation process.
Aside from making sure that the southern portion of the parking lot was empty and unused as the work was being done, “[Scout Solar] handled the entire thing,” Yarbough says. “And certainly, during the construction process, it cut down on some of our parking, but that was only temporary. Thankfully, we own a great deal of land to the west of us, that we were able to use as overflow parking throughout the construction process.”
Other churches have reached out to Yarbough to ask about the process, the savings realized, and any maintenance issues or other challenges. With regard to the latter, he points out that the maintenance of the solar panels is performed entirely by the Scout Solar team.
“That’s significant because anything electronic can have challenges. And when those things happen — as quirky as they may be — it’s comforting for us to know that we can just pick up the phone and call Scout Solar,” he says. “They’re ‘Johnny on the spot. Very responsive.’”
Recently, for example, a truck struck one of the solar panel structures on campus. The company was on site within hours to ensure there were no exposed live wires or any risk of injury from the solar panels being active. They disabled a few entire sections to ensure safety. The company is now in the process of rebuilding and fixing that structure.
“Everyone is excited about the prospect of covered parking, of course, but — as you know — this isn’t something that’s widespread among churches,” Yarbough concludes. “So, it was comforting for other churches to hear about our experience and how relatively seamless the whole process has been.”
Want solar structures? Now it’s easier than ever
There is great news on the horizon for churches that have come up short finding a solar solution for their facilities, before. The passage of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) — an inflation and climate bill that passed through Congress — will reinvigorate the nationwide renewable energy tax credit and make it possible for investors to front the capital for large-scale solar projects similar to what you see here at Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church.
More specifically, this game-changing piece of legislation has broadened the acceptability by encouraging investors to put more money into church renewable energy infrastructure nationwide. Many within the solar industry are predicting that these changes will increase the number of churches who are able to access this program by 10%-20%.
In the past, if a church was told that it doesn’t pay enough for solar to offset its electricity costs, now is the time for Scout Solar to look again. We’ll determine once and for all if solar shade canopies can be made a reality!