By Bruce Edwards
BURLINGTON — A half-dozen years ago, the Episcopal Church in Vermont adopted a strategy to ensure that its historic Rock Point property in Burlington would be a model of environmental stewardship and sustainability.
As part of that commitment, the church contracted with All Earth Renewables in Williston to install a 147-kilowatt, 35-tracker solar array on the 130-acre property that serves as the diocese headquarters.
Bishop Thomas Ely said after leasing the solar array for five years, the diocese last month was able to purchase the system.
“At this point after five years, we were able to purchase the solar array back from All Earth Renewables at a fraction of the cost. Originally it was about a $1 million installation,” Ely said. “We were able to buy it for about $270,000.”
By doing that, the diocese now receives the entire benefit of selling its solar power to the Burlington Electric Department, receiving a credit of 20 cents per kilowatt hour on its electric bill, or approximately $40,000 a year.
Ely said that allows the diocese to earmark the savings for other energy-conservation measures and “environmental sustainability” at Rock Point.
“Basically, at this point we anticipate never having to send a check to Burlington Electric,” he said. “What is produced will be put against our electric bills as credit.”
Under the prior power-purchase arrangement, the diocese paid All Earth Renewables 18 of the 20 cents per kilowatt hour of power generated.
Company spokesman Andrew Savage said a lease-purchase arrangement is a common option.
“Most projects we do give the customer the opportunity to own the system if they haven’t financed it themselves at the time it was built,” Savage said in an email. “We are always happy when a customer has come to value the project’s benefits, wants to own the solar project we have built for them, and capture the long-term savings it provides.”
The Rock Point property, which overlooks Lake Champlain, includes the Bishop’s House, Rock Point School, the Bishop Booth Conference Center and the diocesan offices.
The diocese was hoping the solar array would generate 75 to 80 percent of its electricity needs, but Ely said because they had undertaken other energy conservation measures, it generated slightly more power than anticipated.
Each entity on the property will continue to pay its electric bill into the co-op’s fund, which will then be used for energy improvements.
The diocese is already using the savings to make additional improvements, including installing eight energy-efficient windows at the Bishop’s House at a cost of $4,000.
Ely said there is a plan down the road to replace the oil-fired furnace with a pellet furnace.
The diocese was able to finance the purchase from All Earth Renewable with a contribution from the Rock Point Partnership Campaign, a loan from the Bishop Butterfield Loan Fund, and a $10,000 credit the diocese accrued on its electric account at Burlington Electric.
The Episcopal Church in Vermont has 46 congregations throughout the state and about 6,000 members.