Mormon Church unveils solar powered meetinghouse

Published: Wednesday, April 28 2010 12:00 a.m. MDT

LDS Presiding Bishop H. David Burton speaks at an LDS Church in Farmington Tuesday. The church has xeriscaping, solar panels, instantly heated water, and other energy-efficient technology.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

FARMINGTON — As the sun crept over the Wasatch Front early Tuesday morning, its rays not only fell on a new, 20,000-square-foot LDS Church meetinghouse in Farmington but also powered it.

Featuring 158 panels mounted over about a third of the soon-to-be-opened stake center's south roof, the solar power system is one of several innovative uses of energy-efficient construction and utility technologies being tested by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Helping to unveil to the media the first solar-powered LDS meetinghouse in North America — solar power was installed in 2007 at a meetinghouse in Tahiti — were two members of the church's Presiding Bishopric — Presiding Bishop H. David Burton and Bishop Richard C. Edgley, first counselor.

Estimates suggest the solar panel systems should generate enough electricity to power the structure in Farmington, resulting in a projected annual energy savings of $6,000.

"Today, the solar panels are the story, aren't they?" said Bishop Burton, listing other environmentally friendly features, ranging from high-efficiency heating and cooling systems to landscaping designs and building layout.

Added Bishop Edgley: "We're trying to be as energy efficient and conservation conscious as we can."

For a church with some 17,000 meetinghouses, striving for energy efficiency and reducing power, water and waste costs are key concerns.

Captured by the panels and converted into electrical energy, the solar power system uses an inverter to tie into the community's existing power grid and decrease utility demand.

"Over the course of the year, we're anticipating a net-zero electricity bill," said Jared Doxey, director of architecture, engineering and construction in the church's Physical Facilities Department. "We're expecting to generate as much as we use."

In some states, such as Nevada, Colorado and New Jersey, unused electricity can be sent into the power grid and result in utility credits. Utah does not have such a program, although some state legislators are looking into the possibility.

Located in the building library for all to see is a performance monitor display, to show members the generated energy levels, power uses and to-date power savings — the latter not only in kilowatts but also in buckets of coal burned or use of toasters, blow dryers or light bulbs.

In the previous six days, the Farmington building had generated 910 kilowatt hours of energy — a typical three-ward meetinghouse will use upward of 300 kilowatt hours through a Sunday.

Other environment-friendly elements in the prototype include:

 Restrooms with larger floor and wall tiles and without countertops, making the restrooms easier to clean and maintain.

 Toilets with buttons for two levels of flush flows, using a third less water than normal toilets.

 Xeriscaped landscaping, featuring decorative rock, bark and drought-tolerant plants.

 Underground soil-moisture sensors, determining watering needs for plants and sod and conserving 50 percent of normal usage.

 Polyurethane foam insulation, sprayed 4 inches thick to better attach to and seal along exterior walls.

 Eighteen residential-type furnaces covering 10 building zones, lessening maintenance and repair costs compared to commercial furnaces. Also, variable-speed motors lower power demands, with PVC ductwork used instead of metal ducts.

 Upgraded thermostats, providing online stats and sending malfunction and maintenance alerts by e-mail to facility managers.

 A demand-limit controller, regulating heating and cooling standards in specific zones based on use and occupancy. It can result in estimated utility savings of between $500 and $1,000 annually.

 Two tankless water heaters, providing hot water on demand and eliminating the need for a standard 100-gallon water heater trying to maintain heated water.

 Motion-sensitive light switches, turning off lights when rooms are not in use.

 Windows coated with Low-E Solarban 70, blocking 78 percent of the sun's heat energy.

 Three additional outside trash bins next to a typical Dumpster, providing collection for recyclable materials.

 A bike rack and specifically marked stalls for hybrid and energy-efficient vehicles for environmentally minded members.

 An audiovisual room and extensive wiring throughout the building, allowing for webcasting of conferences and leadership meetings to satellite building locations. Web conferencing reduces travel time, costs and vehicle emissions.

"All of these little things really pay off," Doxey said. "This building takes efficiency to a new level."

In all, the building qualifies for a silver-certification LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating.

Four other buildings using the prototype design are being constructed, including a second Utah meetinghouse in Eagle Mountain. The others are located in Apache Junction, Ariz.; Logandale, Nev.; and Pahrump, Nev.

The LDS Church has long used conservation practices in its buildings — deploying overhangs and verandas to reduce heat load in its structures throughout the world beginning in the 1950s, as well as using a system of several underground spring wells in the early 1970s to enhance the Church Office Building's cooling and heating system.

A meetinghouse in Susanville, Calif., has been totally heated by geothermal energy since the 1980s, and the conversion of the Vernal Tabernacle into the Vernal Temple in the mid-1990s featured reuse and recyle efforts. Based on the church's current "Heritage-T" design, the Farmington prototype has yet to be approved as a standard for the church.

"The early results are so overwhelming that it won't take long to determine where we're going on this," said Bishop Burton. "It's another step in our program to be environmentally responsible."

e-mail: taylor@desnews.com

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