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Vienna church: Solar initiative will aid carbon-neutral efforts

Church of the Holy Comforter will install panels above parking spaces
This rendering depicts a solar array that leaders of Church of the Holy Comforter (Episcopal) in Vienna hope to have built on the site's lower parking area.

Aiming to achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2030, the leaders of Church of the Holy Comforter (Episcopal) in Vienna are advancing with plans to build a solar array on the site’s lower parking lot.

Leaders of the church, located at 543 Beulah Road, N.E., now are seeking permits from Fairfax County and the town of Vienna, but hope to break ground on the project in mid-April and have it finished sometime this summer, said Rev. Jon Strand, the church’s rector.

“It’s a great use of parking-lot space and a way to save our planet and save money,” he said.

The project, which will cost between $450,000 and $650,000, has been helped financially by a large donation from a family of parishioners and a $10,000 grant from Fairfax County’s Energy Conservation Assistance Program, Strand said.

The project is getting experienced construction advice from Dan Govan, principal at Govan Builders Inc. in Vienna. Govan, who has been a parishioner at Holy Comforter for 22 years, said church leaders asked him to bring his building knowledge to bear for the solar initiative.

“There was a little bit of a disconnect when they were researching and trying to get a solar-panel provider,” he said. “They could provide all of the panels and install them, but they didn’t have that connection [to get] the structure built to support this. That’s where I came in, to provide guidance and contractor services to kind of put the pieces together, kind of like building a house or building a remodel project.”

Govan interviewed companies that do such structural work and now is talking with electricians.

“It’s an exciting project for us,” Govan said. “We’re a home builder and remodeler in the Vienna area, but to be part of something new that’s in the area – and hopefully this will be the first of many – we’re excited to be helping out here.”

Church leaders interviewed three companies about executing the project and decided on Ipsun Solar.

“They do these all over the country,” Govan said. “I think we’re in good hands.”

Structural Solar LLC will provide the structure on which the panels will be placed in the parking lot, Strand said.

The solar array will be located on the church’s lower parking lot, a relatively flat, unshaded area with plentiful exposure to southern light. The equipment, which will be angled at heights ranging from 13 to 16 feet tall, will not be visible from Beulah Road, Govan said.

The array will be about 40-by-185 feet and have 235 panels, each of which will measure 45-by-49 inches and generate 585 watts’ worth of electricity. Church leaders anticipate the solar array annually will produce 175,000 kilowatt hours’ worth of electricity, or the equivalent of about 85 percent of the church’s 2020 baseline electricity use in 2020.

No parking spots will be sacrificed as a result of the project; the spaces under the array will be shaded from the sun.

The parking-lot solar array will bring the church to about 70 percent of its carbon-neutrality goal. To achieve the remaining 30 percent, church leaders would need to install solar panels on the roof of Holy Comforter’s chapel.

Strand said church leaders are grateful for Govan’s help with the project.

“It’s a supportive relationship,” Strand said. “He’s an excellent person to work with and he gets stuff done.”