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Bakersfield First Congregational Church Dedicates Solar Panel System

By Marjorie Bell, member of First Congregational Church, Bakersfield 

     In a blend of environmentalism and old-fashioned stewardship, First Congregational Church/United Church of Christ in Bakersfield, Calif. recently dedicated its 200-panel solar panel system that promises eventual energy savings and addresses conservation concerns.  The $200,000 system on its south-facing classroom roof at 5 Real Rd. was dedicated after 10 a.m. worship on July 17 with members wearing sunglasses as a nod to the God-given power of the sun.

     “We hope that our solar panels set an example for the community,” said Michael Gagner, a retired petroleum engineer who served on the FCC Solar Panel committee that proposed and executed the project. “It’s hard for non-profits to do this kind of work because a federal tax credit doesn’t apply.  We had to rely on a contractor willing to work with us.”  Also on the committee were co-chairs Chuck Dobie and  Marty Steinman as well as Jack Hulson and Doug Miller.

     Rev. David Stabenfeldt, now starting his third year as the FCC pastor, is elated that his congregation understood the need to seek alternative energy to power the facility that is open six days a week.  “Older members thought we should be doing this,” he said.  “We had an intergenerational concern for both the budget and conservation.”

     Dobie, also a petroleum engineer, felt confident that the project would benefit the church because he had already supervised two solar projects, one in an oilfield north of Arvin and another on his own Bakersfield roof. He explained that first Pacific Gas and Electric had to approve a tentative project.  Then the committee sent out bids to about 10 companies with Bland Solar making the overall best proposal.
Financing the project included borrowing from UCC Cornerstone, a church-affiliated finance company. Cornerstone provided 60 percent of the capital with a church investment account, member pledges, and reduced monthly energy expenditures  covering the rest.

     The committee set out to raise $50,000 through member pledges over a three-year period, but actually received $80,000. Many of the pledges were about $350 a year for the three years.  Thus, the Cornerstone loan could well be paid off in five years, according to Dobie.

     The system panels are  designed to produce 50 percent of the church’s needs.  It could have been larger, but that would have involved more of an upfront cost.  “We’re hoping to make our other energy usages more efficient too,” Dobie said. The panels are projected to last 30 years with only an annual washing.
Glenn Bland, owner of Bland Solar, encourages other churches to install solar panels.  “It’s my sunlight mission,” he said, referring to his cost-plus discount offer to solarize faith-based facilities. If the pitch or angle of the roof is a problem, he added that his company could put panels on church parking lots.

     The worship service included sing-a-long renditions of “This Little Light of Mine” and “You Are My Sunshine.” The dedication ceremony after worship was covered by two local TV stations.

     “Our congregation’s generosity is forward thinking,” Gagner said.  “We realized that we can’t make our decisions based on just today.  The solar panel decision will benefit the life of this congregation for years to come.”


One Response to “Bakersfield First Congregational Church Dedicates Solar Panel System”
  1. Bruce Jones says:

    Way to go, Bakersfield FCC. I am proud of you.
    bruce jones

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