If your church or other organization is considering installing solar panels, the following is an outline of the process that worked for us at the Unitarian Church of Hinsdale, Illinois and a template that you might want to use.

  • Put together a group of church leaders to shepherd the process. It’s good to involve representatives from the board of trustees or other governing body; the buildings and grounds committee; the fund-raising committee; and the environmental committee (by whatever names those groups are known); and it’s very helpful to have a builder or architect with experience dealing with your local municipality.
  • Find a solar installer that has experience with churches or other non-profit groups, as the financial considerations, including tax credits, are different from those involved with residential or business installations. In Illinois, an excellent resource is Faith In Place, an inter-denominational environmental organization.
  • Research federal, state, and local tax and other policies that encourage the installation of localized electrical production like solar panels. These policies vary from place to place and change over time, so see what’s available where you are and when you are ready to install.
  • The installation should be sized to meet your current electricity usage, based on your electric bills over time; or, if you are making other changes (such as changing heating or air conditioning systems), the usage that you are sure to need. It doesn’t make sense to buy more than you need, since in most places you don’t get credit for delivering extra electricity to the grid.
  • Make sure that, if your roof needs replacement, it gets done first, or at the same time.
  • Consider whether you can fold the solar panel installation into a broader infrastructure program, including other energy-saving improvements. The congregation might be more excited to support a capital campaign that is ambitious and has a demonstrable benefit for the church’s bottom line as well as the environment.
  • Work closely with the installer, electric utility, and local government. Here is where having an experienced builder or architect on your team is especially helpful.
  • Be sure to request an app that church staff or volunteers can access, that shows the level of electricity being produced daily, monthly, and yearly. This is a common feature of any solar installation and will help you check on the success of your panels and share the good news with your congregation.
  • After installation, follow up with the electric utility to make sure that you are getting proper credit for the electricity that you are generating.