Arizona Daily Sun, Josh Biggs, Associated Press
Rachel Davis and Mick Henry of the Flagstaff Federated Community Church stand in front of their church's new solar panels in Flagstaff, Ariz., on Jan. 5, 2012. About a year and a half ago he and church employee Rachel Davis were struck by another idea: What about solar panels, to replace the church's $800 per month electric bill? Now, 132 solar panels manufactured in California are going up at the church just west of Flagstaff's downtown public library, courtesy of about $37,000 in donations from some of the 250 active members of the church, a $120,000 loan from the Presbyterian Church, and a $20,000 rebate from Arizona Public Service.

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. — Flagstaff Federated Community Church parishioners formed a group called Christians for the Earth in 1996, and parishioners go on nature walks to take in their surroundings.

"The more they appreciate God's creation, the more they'll do to care for it," said Mick Henry, a member of the church who also runs a tree-removal business.

Being environmentally active is part of the church's mission, like gathering in prayer.

About a year and a half ago he and church employee Rachel Davis were struck by another idea: What about solar panels, to replace the church's $800 per month electric bill?

So they spent more than 500 hours over a year and a half getting bids, testing out the idea, crunching numbers and pitching the proposal to the congregation.

Now, 132 solar panels manufactured in California are going up at the church just west of Flagstaff's downtown public library, courtesy of about $37,000 in donations from some of the 250 active members of the church, a $120,000 loan from the Presbyterian Church, and a $20,000 rebate from Arizona Public Service.

Flagstaff Federated has seen its electric bills go up about 6 percent each year, on average, including all fees.

Under this scenario, the church will pay off a loan rather than an electric bill for about the next 15 years and sell power back to APS via the grid.

After the solar panels are paid off in 15 years or so, the church estimates it will save $350,000 over the panels' lifetimes of about 40 years.

"APS rates will rise, whereas this is locked in," Davis said.

The church is changing out lights and contractors are sealing up the insulation to make the facility more efficient.

Within five years, 100 percent of the power the church would need will be generated by panels tied to a tracking system, where the installer will monitor them for defects and track energy generation in real time.

Davis and Henry would like to help other churches plan for solar panels.

Across town, APS is nearly finished with a multi-pronged plan to put solar panels on Doney Park homes, larger facilities (Cromer School), and a 6-acre array of solar panels just east of Highway 89.

"All the grading and the walls should be completed in the next few weeks," said Cyndi Newman, project manager for APS.

The utility said it wanted to test how it would work to have consumers drawing from and feeding power into one segment of the utility.

APS did not know Thursday how much this kind of power would cost ratepayers statewide.

Renewables currently make up 3 percent of APS' energy supply.

The 500-kilowatt solar array might be the biggest solar array in Flagstaff, and it holds 2,156 panels made in Goodyear that will track the sun.

It's enough to power about 125 homes.

Another 125 homeowners have offered their roofs to host solar panels owned and maintained by APS, with power flowing back to APS.

In return, these homeowners receive fixed rates on portions of their bills for 20 years.

Information from: Arizona Daily Sun, http://www.azdailysun.com/