The Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff recently installed four self-contained, solar-powered lighting systems in its west parking lot. Photos courtesy of UUCOC.
Oct. 18, 2017
Members of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Oak Cliff always strive to “walk in the light” but now they can say – make that nonpolluting light.
After years of relying on spillover light from nearby city street lights to illuminate their west parking lot, the congregation has installed four, self-contained, solar-powered lighting systems to see visitors safely to their cars.
“The very long distance to the west parking lot from the available power connections on the property would have made for a very expensive conventional lighting installation," says church member and property manager Scott Grey. "We decided that solar-power was not only more cost-effective, but it fit in well with our principles.”
A light source, a battery pack and a solar panel comprise each lighting system. Because the solar panel charges the battery throughout the day and the LED light source draws from the stored energy throughout the night when the light shines, each system is totally self-contained and never connected to the electric power grid or affected by power outages.
At a price of $14,000 for the system and a little over $4,000 for installation expenses, the four Sol, Inc. – model number TP-3.7-NF-2, – fixtures tallied up better than a hardwired lighting system, says Grey. Installation costs were mitigated by volunteer labor from among the church’s membership.
The city of Dallas requires a construction permit for any permanent installation project, but building codes were unclear as to how to accommodate some new technologies. In order to move forward with the lighting project, the congregation’s decision prompted the city to address how to handle the permitting process of such fixtures in the future, Grey says.
“Dallas did not until very recently have detailed requirements and specifications for solar installations in the city construction codes. There was a lot of back and forth in determining how to even classify the project originally,” Grey says. “They just had to first figure out how to classify the required construction permit in terms of the codes existing when we started the project, and then they eventually granted the permit and found all of the materials and the actual installation acceptable.”
The solar-powered fixtures use long-lasting LED light technology, so the fixtures are expected to be maintenance-free and add nothing to the church’s monthly electric bill.
Additionally, the light systems are compliant with the design recommendations of the International Dark-Sky Association, an authority on light pollution that works to protect the dark of night and the educate the public on how excessive light at night adversely affects both people and wildlife. With proper shielding, the lighting systems minimize light spillover and shine only the amount of light that’s needed onto a specific target.
For these reasons, the decision to use solar-powered lighting was an easy one for the congregation.
“Once the idea of solar lighting was proposed, it gained strong emotional support from nearly the entire congregation,” says Ben Marmaduke, church treasurer. “It was an elegant solution to a problem and something we could all feel good about. One of the tenets of the Unitarian Universalist Church is living in harmony with the earth."
“It was an elegant solution to a problem and something we could all feel good about. One of the tenets of the Unitarian Universalist Church is living in harmony with the earth."
As Unitarian Universalists, the congregation is especially concerned about living as harmoniously with the earth as they are with their neighbors, says church board member Kathy Grey. Therefore, the lighting project was more than a practical way to address the congregation’s need for lighting in its parking lot; it was also an opportunity to put faith into action and serve as an example for other churches, organizations and businesses to follow.
“We strive to go green at every opportunity, from choosing energy-efficient appliances and construction to adding native plants on our campus that benefit pollinators. Our monthly Social Justice Film Festival often features documentaries about environmental issues, followed by discussion about actions we can take,” Kathy Grey says. “Our Seventh Principle states: ‘We affirm and promote respect for the interdependent web of life, of which we are a part.’ It’s an environmental justice issue – we feel morally obligated to take care of our Earth.”
UUCOC members help with installation.
“Why would we not choose renewable resources such as solar power whenever possible?” she sums up.
At the top of tall poles and almost indistinguishable from conventional street lights if not for the solar panels that power them, the fixtures stand as a quiet statement to the community about choosing eco-friendly options when they're available. The church is planning a dedication to ceremoniously bless the lights soon.
..The fixtures stand as a quiet statement to the community about choosing eco-friendly options when they're available. The church is planning a dedication to ceremoniously bless the lights soon.
“Now that it is done, the solar lighting system is a source of pride for UUCOC members,” Marmaduke says. “It is visually impressive when you drive by our church and see the large structures with solar panels. We hope it helps attract visitors to our growing church. Maybe passersby will be curious about a church that went to so much trouble to do something environmentally responsible.”