Church solar project aims to aid community


BENNINGTON — It's a project meant to help the environment, save money and assist local service agencies through the installation of solar panels.

St. Peter's Episcopal Church is working with Power Guru Solar Systems of North Bennington to build a solar array on the flat rooftop of St. Peter's parish hall.

The church needs 15 panels for its own use. This project will cost $15,200. Grant applications are filed for $7,200, so the church needs to raise $8,000. Organizers are looking to have raised the $15,000 for the St. Peter's project by the end of February. But there is room for 35 more panels on the roof. With funds to install these extra solar panels, the goal is to help the wider community.

"The more that we can put up there, the more we can help non-profits, because we plan to lease or sell that extra power to non-profits," said Mary McGuinness, a member of St. Peter's and of the local group Southshire Community Solar.

Also involved in planning and promoting the project is Jerry Byrd, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Bennington and also a member of Southshire Community Solar.

"It's going to be up to St. Peter's congregation to figure out how they're going to share their extra panels, extra power. And there's a lot of ways that one can do that. You can simply just sell the power straight out and you can sell it at a discount, you can sell it at a reasonable rate," Byrd said. "Or you can lease the panels out for these other non-profits if they don't have the budget. Or, the best thing for them would be to be to actually buy their panels for their electrical need. That's the absolute best thing because essentially they would have their power, except for the services part of it, basically for nothing."

A donor from out of state has stepped forward to match funds raised for the project by Feb. 14, Valentine's Day, McGuinness said. "So there's a big push to get enough donations," she said.

Building out all the panels on the parish hall roof will cost about $52,000.

A flyer for the project states that the aim is to aid a non-profit that benefits children and families. "We at St. Peter's believe in the vision of change for our church and for our town. We see that we can be leaders in change by showing good stewardship of creation, and especially our building and our land and that we can share our abundance with our neighbors," the flyer reads. "The use of panels by other non-profits is a great step in our reaching out from the doors of our church to the people along our streets and the neighborhood."

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St. Peter's is following the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship, a stone's throw away from St. Peter's across School Street, in installing solar panels.

"It's basically the same model over at the UU. It was developed — basically St. Peter's and the UU — in conjunction," Byrd said. "And the UU just happened to get the money together rapidly. So we were able to move forward on that."

"The UU is the same in that they're going to have a specific usage and then they're figuring out how they're going to share that with the larger community. PAVE [Project Against Violent Encounters] has been an organization that we've talked to at the UU," he said. "We're hoping that the Sunrise Family Center can maybe participate in this one here."

All this, however, is still uncertain. "These are all imaginings," Byrd said. Added McGuinness, "Yes, we don't know that for sure yet."

This green power will also benefit organizations regularly using the parish hall: Soul Food Sundays, Rights & Democracy, the Restorative Justice Program, Alcoholics Anonymous, the Center for Independent Living, the Tutorial Center and Bone Builders.

Byrd said that if a non-profit bought the panels it needed for its electrical needs, "the payback or the return on your money is going to be good, especially if you upgrade your heating and cooling system and weatherize your building."

The new panels will not be visible from the street, as is the case with the panels atop of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

"Somebody said to me: 'how's that going to look?'" McGuinness said. She replied: "You're not ever going to know it's there."

Those interested in learning more about this effort can email Gifts may be sent to St. Peter's Episcopal Church Solar Fund, 222 Pleasant St., Bennington, VT 05201.

Mark Rondeau is the Banner's night editor and religion editor. He can be reached at


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