St. Vincent de Paul Church is saving about $800 a year by converting to solar power. Photo from Google Street View

Let there be light: Church uses parish power to go solar and lose the electric bill

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  • September 5, 2018

When God provides, there’s not much else that parishioners of St. Vincent de Paul Church need. 

For the first time, this summer mission church in Tay Valley, Ont., is operating solely on solar power. A small 100-watt solar panel on the back roof of the church was all it needed to power the lights, some ceiling fans, a piano and a microphone for Sunday Mass each week. 

“Nobody sees a difference,” laughed Deacon Brent McLaren, pastoral minister. “And that’s the point. For anyone walking through the door, they’d never know it and isn’t it wonderful.”

The congregation doubles, sometimes triples, in size between May and Thanksgiving as people head to cottages in the region about 95 kilometres southwest of Ottawa. The rest of the year, the church keeps its doors closed but the electric bill still comes in every month. This year, local parishioners found a solution. 

The church has been running off-grid since June and so far, so good, said McLaren. By converting the system to run on solar power, the building is saving about $800 in operational costs per year. 

“The thing that absolutely amazed us is how little power the church is actually drawing when we switched all the lights over to the LED, switched everything to low power circuits,” said McLaren. “Last week, we were drawing just a little over 250 watts of power which a few years ago would only power three lightbulbs, and they’re drawing for the whole church.”

Parishioners Peter and JoAnne Butler spearheaded the project. JoAnne said she and her husband had been mulling over the idea for about a year before they brought it up last year to the finance committee of St. Bridget’s Parish — their home church and the sister church of St. Vincent de Paul, located about 10 km away.

solar power church 02Peter and JoAnne Butler put their engineering expertise to work in helping St. Vincent de Paul Church convert to solar power with a panel on the roof. (Photo courtesy the Butlers)

The Butlers are experienced engineers with a collective 35 years in the electric power industry. JoAnne worked in electric supply for 19 years and Peter has worked on electricity and construction management for 16 years, including many large-scale solar projects.

“St. Vincent had a bit of an advantage in that Peter and I have the expertise,” said JoAnne, whose great great grandfather donated the land on which the church was built in 1889. “We were all sort of thinking the same thing.”

Once the project was approved, the Butlers bought all the materials at a local Canadian Tire store for about $800, the same cost of running the building for a year. 

In June, Peter and a fellow parishioner spent a week installing the system and just like that, the church was running entirely off-grid. 

“It’s just a community getting together, fundraising and using the expertise that we have in the church,” said JoAnne. 

Hopefully, JoAnne said, the success of the project will encourage other future projects. 

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