Vergennes church seeks power from above … solar power

VERGENNES — St. Peter’s Catholic Church in Vergennes will soon be getting a direct connection to the heavens — through 87 solar panels that Bristol Electronics will start installing on the south-facing roof of St. Peter’s Parish Hall this month.
After The Rev. Yvon Royer, who serves both St. Peter’s and the St. Ambrose Parish in Bristol, learned that Rutland’s St. Peter’s Parish earlier this year had such an array installed, in early August he proposed the idea for the rooftop array to the Vergennes Parish.
Royer said what will be only the second solar array at a Vermont Catholic parish rapidly earned the blessing of St. Peter’s parishioners and committees, the Roman Catholic Diocese of Burlington, and the Vermont Public Service Board.
“I went through three committees at the parish, and three different levels at the diocese, and then the Public Service Board. So everybody recognizes it is to the advantage of everybody,” Royer said. “It came together pretty quickly.”
According to Royer and a press release from the Burlington Diocese, St. Peter’s Parish has four accounts with Green Mountain Power — one each for the church, rectory, parish hall and the church’s thrift shop — with a total annual electric bill of about $5,300.
The solar array to be installed is designed to generate enough power to offset that entire bill, and its $73,145 list price is being funded in part by a $20,000 grant from Green Mountain Power. The rest will come from parish savings.
Royer and diocese spokesperson Ellen Kane both noted that with the grant St. Peter’s Parish will be able to pay off its full investment in 10 years.
“That really kind of made it sweet for us,” Royer said.
Royer added the solar array comes with a 25-year guarantee.
“We’re paying for 10 years of electricity, and we’re getting 25 years of electricity,” Royer said. “Really it’s like a 60 percent savings.”
Kane said the math adds up so well that the diocese believes as many as possibly of the Vermont’s 73 Catholic parishes should consider solar arrays, assuming they have the space either on land or on rooftops without compromising historic buildings.
“We hope more churches will do it, and we’re looking at even the diocese doing it,” Kane said.
Certainly, Royer said St. Peter’s parish council, finance council and buildings and grounds committee all wasted little time signing off on the concept, and neighbors had no objection. 
“I went to the three neighbors who will be able to see the panels from their back porches, basically, and all of them said not a problem,” he said. “They support the project.”
Royer said he had “always wondered” about solar, and at about the same time he learned of the Rutland parish’s array he also received a timely piece of mail.
“I didn’t know if our building would be appropriate, facing in the right direction, what electricity it would be able to create. Bristol Electronics sent us one of their flyers so I contacted them,” he said. “They came and explained how it works and the process and gave us a quote, and I went from there.”
Royer also noted that the Parish Hall roofing is about four years old, making it ideal for rooftop installation.
Ultimately, an array will start offsetting St. Peter’s power bill about three months after a ray of inspiration struck Royer.
“Everything kind of seems to be falling into place,” he said. “They said we should be producing power by the end of October.”
Andy Kirkaldy may be reached at [email protected].

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