Converting to electric:

CHARLOTTETOWN, P.E.I. — An initiative to outfit churches with green technology has been gaining steam across the region.

In December, the Windsor Baptist Church in Windsor, N.S., announced it would be installing 98 solar panels, making it one of the first net-zero religious facilities in the region.

With net-zero buildings becoming more popular, and with P.E.I.’s greenhouse gas reduction goals, SaltWire Network contacted several churches in the province to ask their opinions about converting some of P.E.I.’s most historic buildings to electric.

At St. Paul’s Church in Charlottetown, rector John Clarke told SaltWire Network recently that the parish is interested in helping to meet the net-zero emission targets.

“It is our hope to exceed those targets,” said Clarke.

Over the years, there have been government incentives to conduct studies and make changes to energy consumption in the religious sector.

St. Paul’s has often been ineligible because it commissioned studies and made the changes before the programs started, said Clarke.

“We completely changed all our lights, both the bulbs and the hardware, to higher efficiency systems,” he said.

The church currently operates on the central heating system which heats much of downtown. Facilities at St. Paul’s stay open all week, with the church, hall and rectory all in continual use.

About $23,000 is spent annually to heat the building, with another $13,000 being spent for electricity.

“It is based on world oil prices, so it is likely to be much higher in 2023,” said Clarke.

The goal is to eventually install some heat pumps to help augment its heating and cooling systems, allowing the building to fit the criteria for government incentives.

P.E.I. has several electric heating rebates, but the church does not qualify for many due to its size and role in society.

However, this would also include the need to upgrade the amount of electrical amps coming into the building.

“I haven’t seen those (amp) incentives yet,” Clarke said.

When the new lights were installed, the church was assured by experts the upgrade would begin paying itself off and saving would begin within five years.

“I think we paid for our costs in savings by the end of the second year,” he said.

Clarke added the decision was made to ensure the buildings would be used for events held by the wider community, as well as the church.

“This was not a fundraising effort, but we saw it as our social responsibility to use our resources wisely and benefit the wider community,” he said.

“It will continue to be a major focus of the parish.”

In Breadalbane, Central Trinity United Church is currently in the process of being fitted with heat pumps and LED lights and, eventually, solar panels.

“Our oil bill was getting up to four thousand dollars per month, and that was before the oil doubled,” Alexander MacKay, chair of trustees for the church, told SaltWire Network in a recent interview.

“When we started to look at all this, we knew this was the best way to go forward,” he said.

For years, the church was not able to apply for rebates of more than $600, as churches are considered commercial spaces in P.E.I.

However, the P.E.I. government has since changed that, allowing churches to apply for up to $20,000 for green technology rebates.

From there, the church signed with Faith and the Common Good, an organization through the United Church that aims to educate and assist churches through the process of green technology conversion.

Through the current deal, the organization assists in paying two-thirds of the cost or a maximum of $30,000, said MacKay.

“They’ve really simplified the process, and we’ve got pretty well everything either planned or done,” he said.

Now, most of the work consists of stripping out old technology from the building so it can be replaced, a time-consuming process, said MacKay.

“When you try to change lightbulbs with fixtures all pre-1980s, the fixtures all have to be replaced, too. Then we have to upgrade our electrical system to 200 amps for the heat pumps.”

Despite the hard work, it is worth it in the long run, MacKay added.

“The United Church is known to help the environment. If we can do our part by reducing our carbon footprint, we’re helping the planet,” he said.

In Nova Scotia, Windsor Baptist Church is currently in the process of installing 98 solar panels at its new facility.

Pastor Robert Heffernan told SaltWire Network recently the purchase made sense both financially and environmentally.

“It’s just a smart move coming out of a building where we were spending 20,000 to 25,000 dollars per year on electricity and oil to heat the place,” said Heffernan.

The price of the panels was about $100,000, but due to rebates and a deal the church has with a local contactor, the cost is zero dollars.

“We have a setup with the company where we’re not spending a dime,” he said.

Initially, there were setbacks, including NS Power having to approve the project.

Now that the panels are being installed, it’s expected that within the next 10 years, the church will no longer be paying a monthly electricity bill.

“Electrical bills are going to keep going up, and I don’t see fuel or gas going down,’ said Heffernan. “It’s a long-term strategy that from a financial point of view I highly recommend looking into.”

Rafe Wright, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Guardian