12/22/2010 11:00:00 AM
Let there be power
Adat Shalom first local shul to get solar panels
Staff Writer, The Washington Jewish Week
Who needs Pepco when the sun's powerful solar rays beam down gratis on Adat Shalom Reconstructionist Congregation?
Thanks to an innovative power-sharing proposal to transform the synagogue's roof into a small-scale solar power plant, the Bethesda congregation will be weaning itself from what Rabbi Fred Scherlinder Dobb says is the power company's "dirty" electricity.
By agreeing to affix 180 solar panels onto its roof, Adat Shalom will become one of Greater Washington's first spiritual centers -- and the first local synagogue -- to harness the sun's renewable, and cheaper, power.
"Morally and religiously speaking," Dobb said, "there's a lot riding on our electricity bill."
The electricity that synagogues consume," he said, "is perhaps the largest and most controllable adverse impact that our sacred buildings have on God's good earth."
The power deal, which was brokered by Kenergy Solar, a Maryland-based solar panel installer, will generate around 50,000 kilowatt hours of electricity each year, comprising approximately 16 percent of the synagogue's total yearly power consumption.
Construction on the project will begin in January.
The savings, noted Dobb and other officials, will be substantial, though they declined to provide a precise figure.
"The solar-generated, clean electricity purchased by Adat Shalom will always cost less than [the synagogue] was paying to the electric utility," said Garry Grossman, the shul's co-president.
Under the deal -- called a power purchase agreement -- all costs associated with the building, operating and maintaining of the solar panels will be handled by Altus Power Management, a Bethesda-based energy investment group.
Adat Shalom will technically buy the solar power from Altus under a 20-year agreement that Dobb maintains is "a great long-term investment for predicable budgeting and keeping energy costs manageable."
Altus will spend more than $200,000 in construction costs, but, eventually, will gain from the deal by capitalizing not only on the shul's power consumption, but also on a range of tax breaks and other incentives offered by the state of Maryland and the federal government.
Altus also will be able to cash in on Maryland Solar Renewable Energy Certificates (SRECs), or clean power credits that can be sold to companies that produce so-called dirty power, such as coal burning.
The financial boon, however, isn't the only motivation for pursuing the project, officials said. There's a moral impetus as well.
"A lot of religious organizations naturally understand that polluting less and generating clean energy and saving money at the same time is a noble idea, and part of their mission," said Ken Stadlin, Kenergy's president. "We recognize this is an opportunity to serve this market."
For Dobb and other Adat Shalom members, the solar deal is also about education.
A tracker in the synagogue's lobby will display the amount of solar power Adat Shalom is producing at any given time. Dobb hopes visitors to the shul will notice the display, and inquire about the green roof.
As one of the first religious institutions to ink a power purchase deal, Dobb said, the shul can set the example for the community -- philosophically and practically.
"We hope that our efforts have created a template or sorts," said Dobb, referring to the three-way solar agreement. "It is an easy concrete step a local institution can take" to help "clean up our act."
For more information see: