Unitarian Universalist Fellowship installs solar panels to aid energy efficiency

By Katherine Klingseis, katherine.klingseis@iowastatedaily.com

In an effort to become more eco-efficient, the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames has recently installed solar panels.

The Unitarian Universalist Fellowship is located on North Hyland Avenue. The building attracts many visitors and onlookers due to its unusual design.

“[The Fellowship] is a rather funky structure,” said Janet McKee, member of the Fellowship’s Green Sanctuary Committee. “It is comprised of these various sections, and some [of the sections] are circular and others more rectangular.”

Those who go to the Fellowship are as unique as the building itself. Unitarian Universalists do not share a common religious background or theological philosophy. Followers of Unitarian Universalism are unified by their search for spiritual growth.

“It’s a fellowship that is very open and accepting of all kinds of religions,” McKee said.

Unitarian Universalists have been involved in the civil rights movement, gay rights movement and feminism movement. More recently, UUs have become more interested in environmental causes and sustainability.

“[The Green Sanctuary Committee] deals with a number of environmental issues, one of which is getting national recognition as a green sanctuary,” McKee said. “That’s been a huge process.”

After some discussion, the committee came up with the idea to install solar panels. The members met founder of Innovative Kinetics James McCain at I-Renew, an energy fair near Cedar Rapids.

“We had worked with several other installers prior to this and had them do an assessment of the actual site, but, for various reasons, it just did not work with the other installers,” McKee said. “We had a very limited budget.”

The committee obtained $15,000 through a bequest from the Fellowship. McCain understood the committee’s budgetary restraints, and he worked to install the solar panels without going over-budget.

McCain’s company, Innovative Kinetics is a renewable energy business located out of Des Moines.

He’s a wonderful person to work with,” McKee said. “It has taken a lot of patience on both his and my part.”

The committee had a difficult time persuading city officials to allow the installation of solar panels. Before that point, solar powered systems were not permitted to be connected to the city’s power grid.

“[City officials] began the process of generating a net metering interconnectivity agreement,” McKee said.

Net meters measure how much energy is created in comparison to how much energy is used. Any excess energy is stored for future use.

After waiting for a long period of time, the solar panels were finally installed. The panels are already proving to be well worth the time and money spent.

“[On Wednesday], the little readout on the digital converter read that we were generating roughly 1,650 watts, and, on the meter, we were utilizing only an excess of 65 watts,” McKee said. “It was a really neat thing to see.”

The work of the Green Sanctuary Committee has opened the door for other businesses and establishments.

“In the future, from this point on, anyone wishing to go this route of choosing to aid their energy usage with solar panels will have a much easier task of accomplishing it,” McKee said.

(Posted originally on Iowastatedaily.com on Aug. 26, 2010)

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