Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Evansville

Bethlehem United Church of Christ of Evansville is one of Indiana’s forty solar congregations.  Bethlehem UCC has focused on reducing their energy usage, decreasing their carbon footprint and going solar.  Their active green team is about five years old.  Bethlehem UCC is also active in the Tri-State (Evansville area) H-IPL affiliate.

LED Lights

They have replaced many of their light and fluorescent tubes with LED lights.  Vectren (Southern Indiana’s Utility Company) was at one time giving a rebate for LED lights with the criteria that the new LED bulbs be used at least 1500 hours per year.  With 52 weeks in a year that averages out to about 29 hours per week.  Not all lights in the church are used that much so they did not change those lights that are seldom used as it would not have been cost-effective. Some of the LED lights are even dimmable!

Jay Picking, my tour guide, green team member, and solar expert, was very careful in wanting to do those items that saved money and energy but not to focus on or even do those items that in this congregation would offer little or diminishing returns.

The decision to Go Solar

The congregation of Bethlehem UCC has semiannual meetings to decide on many things for their congregation. In July of 2016, the congregation took a vote to solar, however, they did not want the panels on the roof of the church.  Several locations were considered and the most economical option was right beside the church. Bethlehem UCC applied for but did not receive a $30,000 Community Challenge Grant from the Indiana Office of Energy Development.  (Unfortunately, those grants are no longer available but contact H-IPL as we want to support you in ways to fund your congregation’s solar project.)  Instead, the Endowment Committee of Bethlehem UCC funded the solar array for $30,000 basically to compensate the project for the loss of the grant and the federal 30% tax credit that the church could not receive since it does not pay federal taxes.

They sent out 5 RFPs (Request for Proposals) to different solar companies for several different options – roof or ground or a combo and they even considered a carport system.  They chose to go with a local company that they have been very pleased with. Interesting to note that the nearby Islamic Center of Evansville chose a different approach and a different vendor that they have been very pleased with for their solar panels.  On December 21, 2016, Bethlehem’s solar panels became operational.  They have 160 panels and a 54.4 KW system.

Energy Use Reduction

The annual kilowatts used (based on adjusted square feet with the new addition) was 131,586 kWh for the year of 2010.  For 2017 the total kWh was 7200.  – it looks like the Number of kWh used in 2010 adjusted for expansion was 131,586 and purchased from Vectren.   The number of kWh purchased from Vectren in 2017 was only 7200 adjusted for net metering purchased from Vectren. That is a huge difference!  The solar array produced about 70,000 kWh in 2017.

Not only has the church building itself drastically reduced its energy usage.  About one-third of the congregation took a survey of their home energy use and it is less than the average Hoosier.  Great job Bethlehem UCC!

Metal Recycling Program

From Susan Sirnic at Bethlehem UCC:

And, finally, our metal recycling program is great!  It actually funds our day-to-day expenses for our Green Team.  One of our members, Manfred Stahl, puts a trailer in the church parking lot on one Saturday during the spring.  It coincides with our youth rummage sale for increased traffic.  People bring stuff in, and our team is there to help sort it out.  Then he drives the trailer over to a recycler, and they give us money!  I just finished our annual report, and I can say proudly that Bethlehem has diverted 16,344 lbs. of metal from the landfill and received $1,570.39 for Green Team operating expenses.  We started this in April, 2014 and the majority of the metal is collected on one Saturday each spring . . . .  so we’ve had four turns at this now.  It’s a classic example of how little by little, it all adds up.

Peak Demand

Jay Pickings wanted to mention that the way your congregation’s utility costs are configured can make a big difference in your utility bill. Vectren charges a portion of their bill on peak demand.  Peak demand is the highest 15 minutes of usage at any point during the year.  For Bethlehem UCC the peak demand is 15 minutes about 8:00 am on a summer Sunday morning.  Every utility bill throughout the year bills for both energy used and a percentage of that 15-minute peak demands usage.  The lower that peak demand number is, under this system, the lower utility bills will be throughout the year. It’s worthwhile to talk to both your facilities manager and utility company to determine how your utility bill is calculated.


Thanks to Bethlehem United Church of Christ in Evansville for all you do!