(Feb 1, 2010)

Rev. Doug Moore's Laidlaw Memorial United Church congregation is praying for sunshine.

The Ottawa Street North church is one of the first in Ontario to apply to sell electricity generated by rooftop solar panels.

Its application went in as soon as the province's MicroFIT renewable energy incentive program launched in October.

Now Moore's trying to persuade the Hamilton Conference of the United Church to loan him the money needed to replace a leaky roof and install the power panels.

An initial 10-kilowatt system could bring in nearly $10,000 a year.

Moore says Laidlaw is built like a Masonic hall, on an east-west axis, so the south-facing, sloping roof supported by riveted steel beams is perfect for a solar installation.

"They drool," he says, "all the solar people drool. We've had three of them come around."

But he wants to own the system, "so all the money isn't sucked out of this community. Whatever comes off this roof is going right back into east Hamilton."

They aren't big spenders down on Ottawa North. Moore and the church council run the place on a $115,000 annual budget that includes his full-time salary. Frugal is the word he uses.

They rent their parking lot to the funeral home next door and run bingo games and penny sales to raise money. Compact fluorescent bulbs just in the sanctuary cut the hydro bill $30 a month. New thermostats save more.

In years past, when the church decided to install air conditioning, it went in the attic, because cool air drops naturally. It costs just $50 a month to run. A gas shut-off valve saves the $250 a month it once cost to run five pilot lights on a big kitchen stove.

"The whole green thing is not new to this congregation," says Moore.

Despite their thrift, the need for a new roof is a crisis, one Moore hopes to turn into an opportunity with the solar project.

The idea was born at last summer's Winona Peach Festival where Dan Cole of Brantford had a booth promoting Power for Faith and Healing, his effort to bring churches and nonprofit groups together to share information and form a buying pool to get a discount on solar panels.

Says Moore, "I need $85,000 to fix the roof and I can't get that out of the 80 people here on Sunday morning."

With a loan, he figures he can afford to install panels with a capacity of 10 kW, just enough to pay for the project over 20 years, but there's room for another 20 kW he dreams of adding.

He invites other churches to work with Cole, "because if we all come together, the price will come down." And he has recruited a project manager to prepare a business case for the loan, saying some in the United Church worry about investing in buildings they might have to close because of dwindling attendance.

Moore says, "If we flop, we'll have a church everybody will want to buy, making $10,000 a year from the parking lot and $10,000 from the roof."

Laidlaw's office number is 905-544-6536. For more on Cole's venture, go to directcurrent.ca.