Faith prompts Northborough church’s solar panel project

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By Dakota Antelman, Managing Editor

New solar panels sit on the roof of the First Parish of Northborough’s Parish Hall.   Photo/Courtesy Stephanie Sullivan
New solar panels sit on the roof of the First Parish of Northborough’s Parish Hall.
(Photo/Courtesy Stephanie Sullivan)

NORTHBOROUGH – The decision to put solar panels on the roof of the First Parish of Northborough Unitarian Universalist church was as much about climate and finance as it was about faith. 

Under consideration for roughly a decade, this project ultimately brought the church congregation together with a shared goal, Energy Task Force member Jeanne Cahill said in a recent interview. 

“The church has just a real determination to be as green as we can be,” Cahill said. 

 

Buildings posed energy efficiency challenges

The First Parish buildings sit on a hill outside downtown Northborough. The main church as well as the church’s Parish Hall are both structures that, according to Cahill, had notable energy efficiency issues when the congregation kicked off efforts to address its energy footprint. 

“We have these largely under-occupied buildings, they’re large, they consume a lot of energy, what can we do about that?” she said of the groups’ initial thinking. 

They ended up retrofitting their heating systems while also taking on an extensive insulation and re-roofing project for one of their buildings that originally had no insulation along its peaked roof. 

“There was just massive energy loss,” Cahill said of that building. “You could see it, waves of heat off the building.”

 

Multiple steps lead to solar installation

As the task force and the congregation at large then considered solar energy, the reroofing project prompted questions.

Some individuals worried that solar installation would compromise the integrity of the expensive new roof. 

“It really took several years for people to move beyond the fear of, ‘Is that the right thing to do, or are we kind of stuck with a roof that can’t support solar?’” Cahill said.

Solar provider, Resonant Energy, worked with engineers within the First Parish congregation to assuage those fears and develop a proposal to make solar work, not only structurally, but financially. 

“That helped us overcome a good many years of hurdles,” Cahill said. 

 

Congregation takes pride in completed solar project

The congregation approved solar installation in 2019. Delayed by COVID-19, the project was finally completed earlier this year.

First Parish owns its own panels and benefits from energy collected by the optimally oriented south-facing roof of its Parish Hall. 

As those panels chip away at First Parish’s energy footprint, Cahill thanked Resonant as well as the long list of individuals who helped shepherd this project. 

“You have to depend on people to kind of carve that out of their lives to bring any project like this forward,” she said. “So it has taken a lot of time, more than I would have thought to carry it through.” 

These days, Cahill looks back on the church’s initial discussions about faith and a sense of duty to address climate change. 

“Did we walk our talk?” they asked. “That was really kind of what grounded our whole congregation and in setting forth the actions that we then took through the next decade.”

 

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