GREEN SANCTUARY: An Ames congregation gets part of its power from above

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A central Iowa church is now getting part of its power from a higher power: the sun. But, members of the congregation say going green wasn’t as easy as they thought.

Terri O’Berry says the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames gets part of its power from above. O’Berry says, “We are a living statement for what we believe in and it’s right up on the roof.” On the roof is a set of 10 solar panels. The panels produce 10 to 15 percent of the fellowship building’s total energy use.

Crews installed the panels in August. A $15,000 memorial contribution paid for the project. Member Janet McKee says, “We just tried to get as much capacity production with that $15,000 as we could.”

Members say it took about three and a half years to finish the project. They say they had to work with the city to make sure the project was up to code. Sam Perry, a planner with the City of Ames, helped develop the new ordinance for renewable energy sources. He says they had to balance the desire for solar panels with the aesthetics of the neighborhood. He says, “You remember the big satellite dish era, or anything unusual in a neighborhood, it takes a while to get used to.”

He says it took about a year and a half to craft a policy he says was in demand. He says, “The city is certainly supportive of anyone who wants to investigate putting solar panels on their home or business.”

The policy went into effect in November 2009. So far, Perry says the city has issued three.

McKee says she’s glad the congregation has a permit and that they played a role in helping others be able to put up solar panels. She says, “So now anybody interested in putting a solar array on their home can do it and it’s in place. The process is there.”

Members of the Unitarian Universalist Fellowship of Ames say they’re currently raising funds for 10 more solar panels. Perry says he’s helping other cities work on updating their ordinances to allow renewable energy sources.