Mountain View UMC reduces carbon footprint, cuts electricity bills

August 26, 2016
Story and photo submitted by Jeannine Malmsbury
Green Earth Team and the Standing Committee on Solar and Electric
Mountain View United Methodist Church, Boulder, Colorado

In 2009, Mountain View’s congregation began discussing the idea of installing solar panels on the church building. The goal was to become environmentally responsible while exploring the financial benefits of saving money on energy.

Making Mountain View’s 43,000-square-foot building carbon neutral was a goal of the Green Earth Team and together with the work of the Standing Committee on Solar and Electric, the goal finally became reality this year when the congregation raised $1,780 for carbon offsets.

Before deciding to “become green,” the church was paying more than $10,000 annually for electricity as of 2008. After beginning its energy-saving programs, Mountain View’s solar project became operational in mid-2011 and quickly reduced the amount of electricity needed from Xcel Energy, earning the church 4.5 cents per kilowatt hour produced.

By 2011, Mountain View’s net electricity costs were cut in half to $5,500 annually thanks to solar and other improvements. After adding an energy management system to the solar project in 2012, net electricity costs were reduced even further, according to Green Team member Gary Schmitz. By 2015, Mountain View was receiving payments from Xcel of $2,557 annually and it was saving the $12,098 it would have paid in 2015 for electricity for a total savings of $14,655, of which $6,471 is used to pay for the solar mortgage.

The most recent focus of the Green Earth Team has been the goal to become carbon neutral. Money for carbon offsets was raised this year during the annual Earth Day observance.

“Given that we wanted to have a net carbon footprint of zero tons and the fact that opportunities to reduce natural gas consumption are limited, the congregation decided to purchase carbon offsets,” said Fred Walls, retired NIST physicist and the team member who led the effort to purchase carbon offsets.

When added to its earlier reductions in energy use, the carbon offset purchase pushed Mountain View’s carbon footprint from 174.7 tons in 2008 to minus-4 tons based on 2015 figures. The $1,780 in carbon offsets is being used to purchase a combination of trees and energy efficient solar heaters, both for the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota.

Several team members have spearheaded the effort since 2008 to upgrade and reduce Mountain View’s energy consumption, cutting electrical use by 36 percent from 75,000 –kilowatt-hours in 2008 to 48,100-kilowatt hours in 2015, and earning a 110-ton credit through the recent carbon offset purchase. Compared to a carbon footprint for electrical usage of 66.8 tons in 2008, Mountain View’s electricity usage in 2015 was minus-12 tons.

By purchasing 700 trees for the Pine Ridge Reservation, for an 86-ton carbon reduction, and contributing to the reservation’s solar heater project, a 24-ton reduction, the total carbon offset came to 110 tons. The Green Earth Team selected the organization Trees Water & People of Fort Collins to make the purchase.

No single project, but the combination of several, allowed the team to reduce Mountain View’s carbon footprint by nearly 180 tons, including installation of 187 solar panels in 2010-11, replacement of outdated fluorescent lighting, installation of 26 LED efficient building exit signs, replacement of old refrigerators and a freezer, installation of LED spotlights in the sanctuary, and upgrades to an HVAC unit, among other projects.

The first stage of the effort, Walls said, was to cut electrical use through replacement of ballasts in 229 fluorescent light fixtures. Magnetic ballasts were replaced with electronic ones and, in addition, 492 fluorescent tubes also were replaced. According to Mary Beth Downing, chair of the Green Earth Team, “Roughly two-thirds of the cost for the lighting upgrades was covered by rebates from Xcel Energy.” The new light fixtures were installed by church members, she said, over a six-month period.

Following that, refrigerators and freezers were replaced with new efficient models and sensors were added to meeting rooms and restrooms so lights would go on automatically and shut off when rooms are not in use. The rooftop HVAC system also was replaced with a more efficient model. Combined with an educational program alerting users to “turn out the lights” when not in use, the changes led to Mountain View’s electrical consumption drop of 36 percent from 2008 to 2015.

Team member Arthur Howe oversaw the installation of a 43-kilowatt photovoltaic solar system on Mountain View’s large A-frame roof. “The panels produce about 60,000 kilowatt hours a year, or about 12,000 kilowatt hours more than we presently use, and the excess capacity is sold to Xcel Energy,” Howe said.

The solar system has a projected lifespan of 25 to 30 years, he said.

Team member Schmitz said the system was financed in part by contributions from church members “who bought 100 of the 187 solar panels at $400 each, raising $40,000. The remaining cost was covered through a 15-year second mortgage, which made the monthly utility bill, plus the second mortgage, less costly than the old system.”

Schmitz worked out the financials when Mountain View was raising money from members for the solar panels and continued working with the technical support to reduce peak loads. Despite the success in lower electricity consumption, the church’s energy consumption during peak-load periods was costing $7,000 per year. Together they decided to add an energy management system “that could shed specified loads for a time to keep our peak electricity usage under 25 kilowatts,” Schmitz said. “By doing that, we could comply with Xcel’s lower rate structure, and save Mountain View $7,000 per year.”

According to Howe, “The management system could turn off an air conditioner for 15 minutes, for example, or switch off the 6 kilowatt commercial dishwasher until the other loads had dropped. Normally this wasn’t necessary but on a hot summer Sunday with sudden cloud cover, this was crucial to stay under the 25-kilowatt threshold.”

Natural gas consumption also has been cut, Walls said, “by replacing single pane windows with dual pane models, and adding external insulation to the foundation and to the inside of some walls, for example crawl spaces that aren’t in public places,” he said.

Green Earth Team members will host an informational meeting on Thursday, Oct. 13, at Mountain View to explain the steps in the process of achieving the congregation’s first carbon-neutral designation. The team also plans to recognize the carbon neutral milestone and offer ideas and guidance to anyone interested in learning more about Mountain View’s path to “becoming green.”

Interested persons are invited to attend the information session in the Frasier Parlor meeting room at 7 p.m. Oct. 13, following a reception beginning at 6:30 p.m.  Walls said the information could be useful to other area churches working to reduce energy use and may interest individuals who want to make their businesses or homes more efficient.

For more information about Mountain View’s energy reduction and carbon neutral program, visit the Mountain View website at
Facts about energy, carbon neutral programs at Mountain View United Methodist Church
August 2016
  • Mountain View United Methodist Church achieved carbon neutral status in summer 2016 following its purchase of carbon offsets and reducing its CO2 consumption by 110 tons.
  • Purchase of carbon offsets in May 2016 was the final step in a five-year-long series of carbon-use reductions that allowed Mountain View to become carbon neutral in 2016.
  • The congregation raised $1,780 to purchase 700 ponderosa pine trees for the Pine Ridge Reservation and for providing solar heat to the reservation, yielding 110 tons of carbon offset.
Other carbon reductions were achieved over several years through the following changes to the building’s carbon footprint, focusing on reducing electricity consumption:
  • Replaced all 229 magnetic ballasts in fluorescent lighting fixtures with electronic ballasts and replaced 492 T8 fluorescent tubes with high efficiency T12s.
  • Replaced approximately 100 light bulbs with either compact fluorescents or LEDs.
  • Replaced 26 building EXIT signs with LED signs.
  • Upgraded light fixtures producing a 16 percent reduction in electricity consumption. Two-thirds of the cost of lighting upgrades was covered by Xcel Energy rebates. Lighting upgrades were installed by church volunteers over a six-month period.
  • Replaced several refrigerators and one freezer with Energy Star rated models, reducing energy consumption from the appliances by more than 50 percent.
  • Installed occupancy sensing switches in several church meeting rooms.
  • Replaced 24 incandescent spotlights with LED spotlights.
  • Conducted a church-wide educational program to raise awareness of energy-saving techniques, such as turning off lights and appliances when not in use, closing doors, etc.The combination of electricity use reductions resulted in a 36 percent drop in electricity consumption, from 75,000-kilowatt hours in 2008 to 48,100-kilowatt hours in 2015.
  • Following installation of 187 solar panels in 2010-11, the church produces 60,000-kilowatt hours a year, or 12,000-kilowatt hours more than the building’s annual consumption. Over the 25-year lifespan of the solar system, electricity cost savings have been estimated at $500,000.
  • In 2008 the church was paying more than $10,000 annually for electricity. After Mountain View’s solar project became operational in mid-2011, it reduced the amount of electricity needed from Xcel Energy, earning the church 4.5 cents per kilowatt-hour produced.
  • To ensure maximum energy savings from the solar panels, the church installed an energy management system in 2012 to maintain peak-load usage of less than 25-kilowatt hours. The energy management system automatically turns off appliances or single air conditioners for 15 minutes at a time to ensure peak use remains below 25-kilowatt hours. The energy management system has resulted in electricity savings of $7,000 annually.
  • By 2011, Mountain View’s net electricity costs were cut in half to $5,500 annually. After adding the energy management system savings, costs were reduced further. By 2015 Mountain View was receiving payments from Xcel Energy of $2,557 annually.
  • By deciding to become green, Mountain View earned $2,557 in payments from Xcel in 2015 and saved the $12,098 it would have paid for electricity, for total 2015 savings of $14,655.
  • While natural gas consumption is harder to reduce, several changes have been made to reduce the increase in natural gas use, which powers two natural gas boilers for the church’s hot water heating system. The following improvements were made to reduce increases in natural gas consumption over time:
  • Single pane windows were replaced with double pane windows in most parts of the building.
  • Insulation rate R10 has been added to 300 feet of foundation walls to a depth of 2 feet. Insulation also was added between the hot water registers and the concrete foundation walls.
  • Currently insulation is being added to the inside of some building walls, including crawl spaces in non-public parts of the building.
  • Mountain View UMC includes a small A-frame built in 1965 and a larger A-frame, lobby and educational wing built in 1967. The building covers approximately 43,000 square feet.
Summary of carbon footprint reductions at Mountain View United Methodist Church
August 2016

Year                                                    2008                                      2015
Electricity                                            66.8 Tons                               Minus-12 Tons
Natural Gas                                         107.9 Tons                             117.7 Tons
CO2 Credits Purchased                        0                                           Minus-110 Tons
Net CO2 Footprint (Tons)                      174.7                                     Minus-4 Tons