By Jonathan Phelps
ANDOVER — The South Church and its prominent white steeple on Central Street have had a powerful presence in downtown Andover for over 152 years.
Now, its congregation hopes to make a statement on its environmental stewardship by installing solar panels on the southside of the historic building's roof.
The plan to enter a power purchase agreement with Brookline-based Great Green Enterprises was approved in April during a special congregational meeting. Under the agreement, the company will finance and own the system, while the church will be able to buy the electricity generated by the panels at a lower rate than the utility companies.
The idea to install the panels had been tossed around by the church's "Green Team" for quite some time, but the group took the proposal into serious consideration last fall, said Bill Schroeder, a church member on the team.
He said the group pursued the project out of the desire to reduce the church's carbon footprint and impact on global warming.
"Many of us would have been happy to reduce our carbon footprint even if we were to break even financially," Schroeder said. "But it turns out with today's incentives you can save money on the electric bill."
Schroeder said the Green Team worked with the church's trustees to bring the plan before the church council, deacons and ultimately the congregation. Nearly everyone at the church was in favor of the proposal, he said.
The town's Preservation Commission unanimously approved it during its June 12 meeting.
The South Church congregation was founded on Oct. 17, 1711. But the building itself opened in 1860, according to Schroeder.
Church trustee Candy Dann said the panels will only be installed on the south side of the roof and will not be seen from the prominent side of the church facing Elm Square.
"We had a lot of people asking questions about if this will be obtrusive or not," Dann said, noting the church remains committed to keeping the church historic.
"The congregation felt that it would not be obtrusive, but there were some people who actually think it will be a statement that we really care about our environmental stewardship," she said.
Dann said the panels will likely be installed sometime in July pending receiving a building permit from the town. Several structural engineers have confirmed that the roof can handle the panels, she said.
The project will include 160 solar photovoltaic panels that will produce about 52 kilowatts, according to Jordan Belknap of SunBug Solar, a Somerville-based firm hired to design and install the panels. The panels will be black and blend in with the roof, he said.
"We've calculated the anticipated production of the solar array to be 90 percent of the church's current power consumption," Belknap said.
SunBug is also waiting for an application to interconnect with National Grid to be approved.
Rev. John W. Zehring, the senior pastor of South Church, said he's only heard positive feedback about the plan.
"The congregation is celebrating it 300th anniversary this year and for that kind of historic body to choose such a bold move in order to lower our carbon footprint and to be good stewards of our resources makes me proud," Zehring said.
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