Mount Toby Meetinghouse gets solar renovations

  • Members of the Mount Toby Friends Meeting House Climate Witness Committee Roger Conant and Alice Swift with one of the new heating units on the wall of the sanctuary in Leverett. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Members of the Mount Toby Friends Meeting House Climate Witness Committee Linda Harris, Alan Eccleston, Roger Conant and Alice Swift with the new solar array in Leverett. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

  • Mount Toby Friends Meeting House in Leverett sports a new compressor as part of its new solar-based heating system. Recorder Staff/Paul Franz

Recorder Staff
Thursday, December 14, 2017

LEVERETT — The Friends Quaker meeting is known for its silent religious gatherings, but Climate Witness Committee members of the Mount Toby Quaker group are sounding off joyously about $91,000 worth of energy renovations at its 53-year-old meetinghouse. Among these is a 25-by-17-foot ground-mounted solar array that now stands in the Mount Toby Friends Meetinghouse south yard.

The meeting’s Climate Witness Group — which in 2015 launched a voluntary carbon tax campaign that has helped raise $30,000 from nearly 20 congregations and individuals from Maine to Virginia — decided to work close to home, eliminating an average of 980 gallons of oil to heat the building a year. It had been about 35 years since Mount Toby replaced its electric baseboard heaters with an oil furnace.

“The committee was formed over concern about the climate change that’s going on and sensing that we need to take some responsibility, individually and as an organization, to do what we can,” said committee member Alan Eccleston. “Then we started to investigate doing solar heat,” and sought out help from South Amherst Congregational Church, which had already done a similar project.

The result, added member Roger Conant, “was to reduce the amount of oil we use, drastically.”

By installing a 9.7 kilowatt solar array, with a tracking system made by All Earth Renewables, of Vermont, the Quaker group estimates it is saving $4,000 in electricity and heating costs, which members say they hope will eventually be made available to others who also want to cut their use of fossil fuels and electricity.

A strong sense emerged during early discussions that any savings after the expected seven-year payback should be used “to encourage others to do the same, that it shouldn’t just be something for ourselves,” said committee member Linda Harris. She said the new system, which includes nine zones, each with its own heat pump or two, keeps the meetinghouse at a constant 50 degrees, rising to a toasty 70 degrees when the building is in use.

When the call went out for members to contribute to the new system, $82,000 was generated within a month from 75 people, to which was added a $10,000 competitive grant from New England Yearly Meeting. The only complication, according to Harris, was that Eversource required a new electric meter, adding $3,100 to the overall cost of the new system.

The new system from the Greenfield Solar Store includes an anemometer atop the solar panel frame that measures wind speed and makes it lie flat to prevent it from being blown over or damaged in high winds.