Working with the sun: Colville church goes solar

If it were financially feasible to convert an older building, particularly a church, into a more energy efficient establishment, would you do it? For the board of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Colville, the answer was a no-brainer. “Our treasurer looked at the numbers and basically said, ‘Why wouldn’t we do this?’” says Pastor Eric Ohrtman of the church’s solar panel installation project. The project, which started as just an idea last October, is now a reality, with two rows of 14 280-watt solar panels lining the roof of St. Paul’s Lutheran Church on Dominion Avenue. The State of Washington and Avista Utilities provide a Renew¬able Energy Production Incen¬tive for energy users to connect solar systems to the grid and receive full retail credit for all power generated (Senate Bill 5101). The incentive authorizes annual payments of 54 cents for every KWh (kilowatt) of production ($5,000 annual cap). The project was a bit time sensitive, says Ohrtman, since the panels had to be installed before July 1, 2015 in order for the church to receive incentives from the program for this year. A committee of church members and non-church members interested in seeing the project through was formed consisting of Ohrtman, Dave Smith, Ross Perkins Tom Schwartz, Clint Poling and Izaak Edvalson. A loan of over $26,000 was obtained from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America with a five percent interest rate. ‘Everyone jumped right in.’ Ohrtman says that the church will be able to pay back the loan in a little over four years, because of the kickbacks the incentive provides. “We realize it’s not a money saver for all organizations, businesses or individuals to do this, but if you can, it makes a lot of sense,” says Ohrtman, adding that the project exemplifies the Lutheran Church’s philosophy of being good stewards of the environment. “It’s an overall sense of caring for creation, and this is in line with that ethic.” The 40x65-inch panels were purchased from Eco Depot in Spokane. The panels were installed by volunteers last Satur¬day and will go online Tuesday, May 12. Edvalson, who is not a mem¬ber of the church, but takes in¬terest in solar energy projects (he recently equipped his own home with solar panels), adds “it’s encouraging to see a church stand by its principles in way that not only benefits them, but has a positive impact on the environment, and our community as a result.” St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in Colville was built in 1950. An addition was constructed in 1973, expanding the church to 8,200 square feet. Ohrtman says the building was conceived to be as energy efficient as possible with big windows letting in natural light and the heating and cooling system set up to only turn on when the building is in use. Church member Dave Smith was instrumental in mapping out the meters and system hookup for the new solar panels. “These guys (committee) and Bruce Cage of Eco Depot have been instrumental in making this project a reality,” Ohrtman praised. “Everyone jumped right in.” The Washington State net metering law expires 2020. To learn more about the incentive and how to qualify, go to