Solar and Houses of Worship Part 1

Jim Lamm
Parish Administrator - St. David's Episcopal Church

“Even though we’re an old church – the oldest church in Austin – we’re still contemporary and still trying to help the environment in lots of ways.”

– Jim Lamm

The following is an excerpt of an interview by Environment Texas with Jim Lamm Parish Administrator of St. David’s Episcopal Church in Austin, Texas. The questions and responses have been edited for brevity and clarity. 

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St. David's Rooftop Solar Array Jim Lamm | Used by permission
St. David's Solar Array - Aerial View Jim Lamm | Used by permission

Jim Lamm: We’ve had our solar panel a long time.I think it’s 2000, early 2000s like 2003 or 2004.

It seems like we have an environmental committee that deals with a lot of stuff including recycling and landscaping and things like that. They got our little area that we have out front to be designated as a wildlife kind of refuge for the birds and things like that. So I think it came out of that committee, when they did it as a way to help the environment by being less dependent on fossil fuels. And so they built a huge solar array on top of our garage. It is still, as far as I know, last time I talked to somebody in the city, that is the largest privately owned solar panel array in downtown, so it can produce a lot of kilowatt hours. I don’t know the exact total, but we can only use approximately half of it. 

We cannot sell the power back to the City of Austin because the downtown power grid does not accept inbound energy unlike the entire rest of the grids of Austin that if you build one on your house, you can sell the excess energy back to Austin energy. Downtown grid is not capable of doing that, it is too old, and then they have not upgraded it.

So I’ve gotten calls from other churches around, even around the country, around Texas for sure. That asked me similar questions you’re asking. I mean, because that’s why everyone wants to know – how hard is it to put in and what’s the benefit back out? And my first thing to them is always make sure that you can sell back.

Environment Texas: So when those churches do call you are, do you, are you supportive of solar? Do you recommend it to them?

Jim Lamm: Yeah, we recommend it. We just say the caveat of make sure that you just build one that’s small enough just to power your building and nothing else. But we’re still getting benefit from it both through dollars and you know, kind of community goodwill because we publicized the fact that we have a solar panel up there that we’re not just, you know, this big church been here 175 years and that we’re, even though we’re an old church and as far as the oldest church in Austin, we’re still contemporary and still trying to help the environment in lots of ways. So if you’re talking to somebody with churches or anybody who wants to talk to me about solar I’m happy to talk to anybody who wants to talk about it.