Oak Park church’s solar panels harness energy from above


[Video provided by Village of Oak Park YouTube page]

Oak Park’s Euclid Avenue Methodist Church is being revered as the “greenest” church in the denomination for installing a new rooftop solar power heating and cooling system to minimize its carbon footprint and reduce energy bills.

With the help of a $76,000 grant from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Fund, the church last month installed 99 rooftop solar panels that work by capturing natural sunlight to control the temperature of the 50-year-old towering structure on South Euclid Avenue and Washington Boulevard.

About 50 people joined Bishop Sally Dyck, State Senator Don Harmon, Congressman Danny Davis (D-Chicago), and several Oak Park Village Board members for a blessing and dedication ceremony on Aug. 22 to unveil the new solar power system and accompanying butterfly garden to the public.

The solar power panel installation is the second major initiative the church has taken to “go green” in recent years.

In 2011, the building was equipped with a geothermal ground-based heat pump that has since reduced energy use by 81 percent.

With the help of a $56,000 grant (also from the Illinois Clean Energy Community Fund) the church also added permeable pavers over the ground-based part of the geothermal system to absorb storm water into the floor of the parking lot rather than create runoff into nearby sewers.

Because geothermal systems emit no carbon dioxide, carbon monoxide or other greenhouse gasses, the Environmental Protection Agency is a big supporter of the geothermal model.

Dyck, an avid environmentalist who penned, “A Hopeful Earth: Faith, Science and the message of Jesus,” commended the church community for serving as a leader in green energy among other congregations.

“Congregations that try to do something more green are often in newer buildings,” Dyck said. “The fact that you did it with an older building should serve as great hope, inspiration and a little kick in the butt to other congregations to go do those kinds of things.”

Besides the solar power panels — which are expected to reduce electrical power usage by 27 percent annually — a certified monarch butterfly way station and flower garden will now welcome churchgoers entering the parking lot.

The garden was carefully designed with special plants native to Illinois that are known to attract butterflies.

Oak Park Trustee Bob Tucker commended the congregation for serving as an example to businesses and residents in the community who haven’t utilized green energy.

“Now with the addition of solar panels, this is a long-term sustainable congregation for hundreds of years into the future,” Tucker said. “It’s not just an investment in the church, but it’s also a social investment in our earth and in our children.”

Congressman Davis echoed Tucker’s remarks.

“What you’re doing to utilize green energy is a demonstration of what can be,” Davis said. “Our earth is so important that we should make use of it to the extent that we must, but let’s not destroy it unnecessarily.”

The total cost of the panels was $126,720. Between the state grant and a $15,000 rebate from the manufacturer, the church paid $35,688 for the panels.

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