With passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, the solar-power landscape has changed dramatically, especially for churches and other nonprofits. The Biden administration’s push to reduce carbon emissions includes a 30% direct payout for nonprofits purchasing solar panels.

“As the need for urgent climate action is becoming clearer each month, faith-based and charitable entities are now much better positioned to do their part,” said Duane Ediger, a solar installer, renewable-energy advocate and member of Shalom Mennonite Fellowship in Tucson, Ariz.

Previously, a 30% tax credit for installing solar panels had dropped to 26% and was due to expire in 2024. Now, those with tax liability can receive this credit for the next decade, and a parallel benefit is extended to nonprofits.

Beginning in 2023, churches can receive 30% of their solar installation costs refunded as a direct payout. There are additional benefits for installing in a low-income community, an Indigenous nation or an energy community (one impacted by fossil fuel boom and bust cycles). Using domestic panels makes a difference in the size of the benefit as well. Details are still being worked out.

“Thirty percent is no stick in the eye!” said Ron Ringenberg of Prairie Street Mennonite Church, in Elkhart, Ind. Prairie Street and New Foundation United in Christ Mennonite Church are working together on plans for solar installations.

Installing solar panels can divert money that would have been spent on utilities to whatever mission a church or other nonprofit cares about. For churches with capital, installing solar panels was already financially beneficial in the long term. Now, the financial case is even more compelling, and the process should be simpler.

Where do we start?

A how-to guide for congregations going solar is now available from the MCCN home page. The booklet covers the rationale for going solar, a step-by-step process and resources such as what questions to ask solar installers.

Writer Karla Kauffman of West Liberty, Ohio, interviewed 18 Mennonite congregations and multiple solar installers while compiling the guide. Over and over, solar congregations advised others to “just do it.” They offered unanimous affirmation for their installations. Many of their stories and tips are included.

The most essential ingredient

Every congregation interviewed that succeeded in installing solar panels had one thing in common: a tenacious leader. This visionary raised the issue, did initial research and then pulled in others. One described himself as a “solar evangelist.” Another used the term “solar champion.” Both men and women served in this role. A few congregations had multiple solar champions.

What did these tenacious leaders do? They did not necessarily have technical or financial expertise, but they were committed to getting the installation completed. Tenacious leaders took initiative, handled early research, dealt with details, contacted people, stayed organized and persisted in hard moments. They might approach members for funding — or leave that to others.

“I was hesitant about being the leader for our project because I had none of the technical knowledge about solar — just the conviction that the time for solar has come,” said Jana Preheim of Mountain Community Mennonite Church in Palmer Lake, Colo. She was pleasantly surprised by the congregation’s overwhelming support. The church installed panels in 2022.

Andy Schell, marketing manager for Paradise Energy Solutions, an East Coast solar installation company, thinks the demand created by the Inflation Reduction Act refunds will be challenging for the solar industry.

“Like almost every industry at the moment, we’re already facing global supply-chain issues,” he said. “The increased demand will make those more difficult, especially in the short term. It would be prudent for interested churches to start the process now.”

by Jennifer Halteman Schrock, director, Mennonite Creation Care Network