Solar Project Helps Nevada Church Congregation

A Presbyterian church in the northern Nevada city of Elko has become the first solar powered church in Nevada. This week the church received a $49,383 rebate from Sierra Pacific Power Company for participating in Nevada's solar demonstration program - SolarGenerations.

The First Presbyterian Church in Elko is the first church in Nevada to turn to the heavens, or more precisely, the sun, for electricity. Photovoltaic solar panels installed on the roof have been generating up to 17,000 watts of electricity for the church since April.

"We are delighted about this. We understand as Christians that we are supposed to be good stewards of the world God has put us into," said church Pastor Pat Mecham. "It's a thrill for us as stewards of the environment and, of course, it's a thrill to cut our power bill. Other churches and individuals in the community are seeing what we are doing here and may be doing the same thing themselves."

Besides saving dollars on the congregation's electric bill, the church is getting a $49,383 rebate from Sierra Pacific Power for participating in the utility's SolarGenerations program, which was created by the Nevada State Legislature to encourage the use of solar energy. Mary Simmons, vice president of public affairs for Sierra Pacific Power, will be presenting the rebate check to church representatives on Tuesday, May 29, at 11 a.m. at the church, located at 1559 Sewell Drive in Elko.

Pastor Mecham said he learned of the solar program from a parishioner, Michael Kerna, an Elko engineer with a renewable energy consulting firm called The Energy Architect. Once the church agreed to take on the project, Kerna designed the photovoltaic system and it was installed by Sabala Electrical of Elko.

According to Kerna, the solar array should generate enough electricity to meet approximately half to two-thirds of the church's electrical requirements. The array consists of 120 photovoltaic panels, each capable of producing about 150 watts of electricity. Along with the sanctuary, the church building includes offices, classrooms and a fellowship hall. The original church was built in 1960 and expanded at various times during the 1970s.

"Our location gets excellent sun. We had a sunny April, and so was the first part of May and we're waiting to get our bill to see how much we've saved," said the Rev. Mecham, who is so enthused about renewable energy that he has also installed solar panels on his home in Elko.

He said the next goal for First Presbyterian is to upgrade its heating and cooling system with more energy efficient equipment.

Since the introduction of the SolarGenerations program three years ago, 192 projects capable of generating nearly 1.9 million kilowatt hours of electricity annually have been completed and $3.7 million in rebates has been paid to participants statewide. Among those eligible to participate are residential customers, small businesses, schools and government agencies connected to either the Sierra Pacific Power or Nevada Power Company electric grids, explained John Hargrove, project manager for energy efficiency and conservation at both utilities.

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